Nearing the end of an extraordinarily dry and hot summer, the Camas City Council on Tuesday agreed to a plan that tightens restrictions on fireworks for the coming years.
In a 5-1 vote, the council approved a proposal to cut down the number of days that residents can legally discharge fireworks in city limits to only July 3 and 4. The new law also will limit fireworks sales to July 2 through 5. The changes won’t take effect until 2017, due to a state law that requires 365 days notice for new fireworks regulations.
Under the city’s current law, residents are allowed to light off fireworks for the first four days of July and on New Year’s Eve.
The new law also allows the city’s mayor to prohibit fireworks altogether during times of extreme fire danger.
Amid drought conditions and the worst wildfire season in state history, the summer of 2015 has brought about a renewed discussion about fireworks safety in Washington. The city of Vancouver will consider its own ban later this month.
During the Fourth of July weekend, personal fireworks caused upwards of $824,500 in damage throughout the county this year. No major injuries were reported, but several homes and vehicles were destroyed during the festivities.
In a countywide advisory vote two years ago, 60.3 percent of voters supported stricter regulations on personal fireworks. Every precinct in Camas came out in favor of heavier restrictions, and altogether the city’s voters practically mirrored the county total at slightly below 60 percent.
Some of that sentiment was present during a public hearing Tuesday night before the council’s vote. A few dozen people squeezed into the council chambers at the Camas Municipal Building to speak or listen. Most voiced support for keeping fireworks around, while some shared concerns about safety.
Fran Biysma, a Camas resident, stood out as one of the few upset about the messy aftermath the morning after the Fourth of July and the loud blasts of mortars and squealing fire crackers carrying on late into the night after most of the city has gone to bed.
Councilor Melissa Smith, the lone vote against the new restrictions, said she wanted to see an even stricter rule limiting fireworks use to July 4 only. She said she’s most concerned about how unsettling the explosions can be to the elderly, pets and veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
“I would never do an outright ban, either,” Smith said, echoing Councilor Shannon Turk’s statement in support of fireworks.
Four Camas High School students, dressed up in blazers, spoke out against the proposal, saying it would harm the city’s budding economy and infringe upon civil liberties. Several residents echoed the latter point.
Kevin Gill, also a Camas resident, said the decision ultimately should go to the public.
“To me, this is not about whether you like fireworks or not. It’s about democracy,” Gill said. “If you’re going to make a decision, let the people choose.”
Putting the proposal up to a public vote would be a waste of money, Councilor Tim Hazen said. Instead, he suggested running a public poll first.
The ordinance wouldn’t change the city’s process for applying for permits to light off fireworks any other day of the year.