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Tradition holds Fourth at Fort Vancouver

There was no parade or food vendors, but that didn’t deter fireworks fans from enjoying free show

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: July 4, 2018, 8:42pm
15 Photos
The lights of an airplane streak through fireworks as they light the night sky above Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and Pearson Field on Wednesday evening.
The lights of an airplane streak through fireworks as they light the night sky above Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and Pearson Field on Wednesday evening. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Once again, people from all over the region gathered on the lawn at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to see something beautiful in the sky.

Across the lawn, country music blared on speakers as people laid out blankets, set up tents and hauled coolers to get ready for the fort’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show sponsored by Columbia Credit Union, The Historic Trust and the city of Vancouver.

John Welborn and Lauren Mattison, both residents of Gresham, Ore., relaxed on a blanket while waiting for the show. Welborn said that he’s been coming to the event nearly every year since he was 5.

“I don’t get to do a lot of this throughout the year, so this is my chance to get my fix,” said Welborn, who grew up in Camas. The couple made a day of it, strumming a guitar, picnicking and relaxing. Next month, Welborn and Mattison are getting married. This is the first year Mattison came out to the event after previously spending the holiday working as a firefighter in the Columbia River Gorge.

22 Photos
Fireworks light the night sky above Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and Pearson Field on Wednesday evening, July 4, 2018.
Fourth at the Fort 2018 Photo Gallery

Steve Gilleland, a retired veteran, came out to the event with a group of friends after his apartment complex had a Fourth of July picnic complete with burgers, ribs and hot dogs.

“It’s something to do,” said Gilleland, who has come the last two years. “Some people sit in their apartments and vegetize.”

Justin Patterson said he used to come every year when he was a kid and decided to come out this year after a recent move back to Vancouver. As he talked, Chewy, a Chihuahua sitting on his lap, barked nervously.

“(He) thinks he’s a Rottweiler,” said Gilleland.

This year was the second year the free event didn’t include a children’s parade, games, food vendors and other features that had marked previous years.

Armando Martinez threw a football with his son Zayden, 9, while waiting for the show. He said he drove out to the event with his family from Hillsboro, Ore., to find out that the event wouldn’t include the extra features. But the family said they’d still enjoy the show.

Enforcement

While The Historic Trust was preparing to put on the fireworks show, fire crews were busy across the county responding to calls of brush fires and multiple structure fires. 

Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said that relative low humidity and winds complicated her work this Fourth of July. She didn’t have the exact number of structure fires reported on the holiday. But she said a structure fire on Z Street near St. Johns Boulevard that occurred last week was the first to be caused by fireworks this year.

As of about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Scarpelli said that her office had issued 26 fireworks citations. One of them included a resident who was manufacturing and selling homemade fireworks. She said that her office worked with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to confiscate the fireworks and will be referring the incident to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

She said that she won’t know for sure if fewer people violated the city of Vancouver’s ban on fireworks this year. But she said that, anecdotally, it appears that more people are obeying the law.

She said that the city of Vancouver has a zero-tolerance approach to fireworks, with first-time offenders getting a $500 citation that rises with continued infractions.

Clark County allows the sale and discharge of fireworks on July 4, but not the day after. Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said that in previous years, his office has taken a softer approach to people violating the county’s fireworks laws and has responded with outreach and education.

“This year, if we see you lighting them outside of the (allowed) day and time, you are going to get a citation,” said Dunaway. “We’ve been warning for years and it’s time for more citations.”

He said that the Clark County Council has made it clear that it wants stricter enforcement of the county’s fireworks laws. He said that people will be given a $500 citation this year if caught discharging fireworks after the Fourth of July.

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Columbian political reporter