Clark County Councilor Julie Olson said that for more than a decade she’s left personal fireworks out of her Fourth of July holidays. But this year, it appears a firework found its way to her.
At about 4 a.m. on July 5, Olson said that she was awakened by a neighbor frantically ringing her doorbell yelling, “You’ve got a fire! You’ve got a fire!” Olson said she grabbed her shoes and phone and hurried outside, where she saw a fire had engulfed the south side of her house.
“It was freaking scary,” said Olson, who lives outside of Ridgefield. “It was something I didn’t think I’d have to deal with it.”
She and her neighbor grabbed her hose and tried to keep the fire at bay until firefighters arrived. According to Clark County Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Young, the fire was extinguished at 4:20 a.m. While no one was hurt and the fire didn’t get inside, it melted away much of the vinyl siding, leaving the home’s wooden panel exposed and the hedge of arborvitaes burnt to a crisp. Olson estimated the fire caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
According to Young, a report on the incident concluded that the fire was likely caused by a firework that had been lodged in the arborvitaes and smoldered into the blaze. Young said that no one was cited and it only took one fire engine to extinguish it.
Although Olson, a Republican, said she’s not angry about the incident and doesn’t want to “make it all about me,” she did say that it’s time for the county to take a look at its fireworks regulations.
“Let’s have a broader conversation in this community on how we celebrate this holiday in a way that’s in everyone’s interest,” said Olson.
And Clark County council Chair Marc Boldt said that the county will soon initiate that conversation. Although he didn’t indicate a ban is currently being considered, Boldt said the council will soon have a work session on the topic that could result in changes to Clark County’s fireworks regulations.
The incident comes at a time when jurisdictions in Clark County have shown a new willingness to clamp down on fireworks. This is the first Fourth of July where the city of Vancouver’s ban on fireworks went into effect. It’s also the first year where fireworks ordinances in Camas and Washougal went into effect. In Camas, the number of days fireworks are allowed to be discharged was reduced to July 3 and 4. Washougal’s mayor also had the authority (which wasn’t used) to restrict fireworks in response to dangerous conditions.
Olson said that she suspects that one of her neighbors launched an aerial or missile firework that landed in the hedge. She said she doesn’t blame her neighbors or think they were being irresponsible. But she said that the incident speaks to how hazardous and unpredictable fireworks can be.
“You can do everything right and bad things still happen,” she said.
While she’s not calling for a complete ban, she said she would be inclined to restrict aerial or missile fireworks, particularly in urban areas, because it’s difficult to control where they land. Olson added that with other issues about noise and pets, the county needs to rethink fireworks and she’s primarily calling for a conversation at this point.
“It seems that the kind of fireworks people are buying now are changing so rapidly that we can’t keep in front of it,” said Boldt. “Some stuff is going 300 feet in the air.”
In addition to doing a better job with public outreach on fireworks regulations, Boldt said that the county should revisit an ordinance that places one set of regulations north of Northeast 219th Street and another more restrictive set south of the street.
Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said that having one set of fireworks regulations would cut down on the confusion over times and locations they’re allowed.
He and Boldt also mentioned revising the ordinance around firework sales permits. Dunaway said that currently the county issues a fixed number of permits for fireworks stands based on population. Local nonprofits often hold the permit, he said. However, he said he’s encountered situations where a fireworks wholesaler is essentially running the stand with minimal or no involvement from the permit holder. He said he would like to see the law clarified to better establish the permit holder’s responsibility.
“Ultimately, my opinion is when someone takes the responsibility of buying that firework device they are taking on the responsibility of learning the law about the firework device,” said Dunaway.