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Vancouver council snuffs out fireworks

Ban on personal use will take effect in 2017

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: October 5, 2015, 10:06pm

This coming July 4 will be the last time residents can legally shoot off personal fireworks in Vancouver.

On Monday, the Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to ban personal fireworks sales and use within city limits. The new law will be in effect starting in 2017 because, under state law, any changes in fireworks regulations require 365 days’ notice.

“It’s probably the toughest decision I’ve made on the city council in 12 years,” Councilor Larry Smith said. “Things change. This is not the city of 20 years ago. … I think the time has come to make a tough decision in the name of safety and our community.”

A dozen people spoke at the council’s public hearing before the vote, and their stance on fireworks was split down the middle.

Fireworks advocates argued that the council should allow some manner of fireworks, or at least hold a public advisory vote.

“Even if you hate fireworks, we’re talking one day, the Fourth of July,” said Gene Marlow, who works at fireworks stands to fund the Fort Vancouver fireworks show. “A week was too much. We get that. We think you should enforce and fine those people. …Curb that, keep it to the Fourth of July.”

Michael Wilson talked about how fireworks stands were a big fundraiser for his Elks club.

“If the people in Vancouver did not want fireworks, they would not buy them,” he said.

Aaron Wampach, who estimated his family’s fireworks stands earn nearly $1 million each year, suggested the stands set aside a certain amount of money to pay for property damage due to fireworks. His father, John Wampach, told the council that he wasn’t concerned about profits — he was concerned about losing individual freedoms. What was next? Perhaps the city would ban people from walking dogs down the street, he said.

Starr Durand said when she moved from Ohio to Vancouver, she was shocked and terrified by her neighbors’ fireworks at first. Now, it’s her favorite time of year.

“It was fun. It was clean. To my surprise, there was always responsible and safe use,” she said.

‘Out of control’

But the fireworks opponents didn’t see it that way.

“It’s completely out of control,” said Alan Fraser. “Four o’clock in the morning and you’re in bed and they’re blowing them off. … I am sick and tired of it.”

Advocating for a ban, Sam Bateman asked whether fireworks proponents cared that fireworks have burned down homes and that people are afraid.

“Is it really worth it, guys?” Bateman asked. “Do you not care about the trauma you cause? … Compassion does not seem to be in your vocabulary — only money.”

Councilor Jack Burkman noted that of the 12 largest cities in Washington, only Vancouver and Kent still allow personal fireworks. He said he’s sympathetic to nonprofits but advised them to talk to their sister organizations in towns that have fireworks bans to see how they raise money.

Even with a personal fireworks ban, the public still could apply for a special city permit to hold a fireworks show, Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said.

In 2012, the council restricted the use of fireworks to July 4 only and limited the days fireworks could be sold to July 2, 3 and 4. Fireworks are not allowed on New Year’s Eve in city limits. Fireworks rules vary in other Clark County jurisdictions.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said people who want to shoot off fireworks can go into the county, where they’re legal, or other places that allow them. Otherwise, come to the Fort Vancouver fireworks show, he said.

Fort Vancouver’s annual Independence Day fireworks display will find a way to continue without revenue from the sale of personal fireworks at city fireworks-stands, Fort Vancouver National Trust officials said in August. This year, the eight stands in the city generated $88,137 toward the 20-minute fireworks show and day of family activities, which cost $318,000, said Cara Cantonwine, director of programs.

This year, the city spent $107,000 on firefighter overtime staffing between June 28 and July 5, when fireworks caused four structure fires, one vehicle fire and 14 landscaping and brush fires, for a total of 19 fires. This year’s property loss due to fireworks was roughly $574,000 in Vancouver city limits and $250,500 in the rest of Clark County.

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