Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Jan. 19, 2022

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County starts process of overhauling fireworks regulations

Council wants rules to be more consistent and to reduce number of days they can be sold

By , Columbian political reporter

Hoping to clamp down on fire hazards and bring more consistency to the patchwork of regulations governing fireworks, the Clark County Council took initial action to revise how it regulates the celebratory explosives.

At a work session Tuesday afternoon, the council directed county staff to begin drafting new regulations that would reduce the number of days fireworks can be sold in unincorporated Clark County to four days, with two days to set them off.

Currently, fireworks can be used in unincorporated Clark County in areas north of Northeast 219th Street from June 28 to July 4 and on Dec. 31. Different rules apply south of that line.

A proposed change would allow the county to restrict fireworks in response to extreme fire danger. The council will also consider changes to regulations that would allow the fire marshal greater enforcement powers in situations where it’s not clear where illegal fireworks have been ignited.

Members of the council didn’t seem committed to any one of the ideas, which will be presented at a later public hearing. But Council Chair Marc Boldt said that he would be in favor of changing the number of days fireworks can be sold and set off during the summer. He said that Battle Ground is also considering a similar measure and that having the county’s regulations align would bring greater consistency to fireworks regulations.

Boldt also said he’d like the county to have the option to ban fireworks when faced with extreme fire risk, similar to measures adopted by Camas and Washougal. He also called for better enforcement.

“If it doesn’t go with enforcement, we go stricter,” he said.

Speaking at the meeting, Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway presented a summary of discussions from a stakeholder group formed in the fall to consider fireworks regulations. He said the group agreed that the patchwork of different fireworks regulations for each city and the county is a problem.

“That produces confusion among the public, as you can imagine, as well as makes it difficult to enforce those fireworks laws across jurisdictions,” he said.

Dunaway said the group agreed that educating the public would result in better compliance with fireworks regulations. But he said he has a fairly small office with other responsibilities and that it could get costly stepping up enforcement efforts. He said that one idea that was floated was attaching a $1 or $2 fee to fireworks sales or charging a separate fee for tents used by retailers. Revenue generated would fund education and enforcement efforts.

Dunaway said the group disagreed on other issues. He said that retailers are concerned that limiting the days of sales would cut into profits. Local nonprofits receive a share of fireworks sales, as does the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which sponsors the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show. He said they also expressed similar concerns.

The county is not considering adopting a “safe and sane” approach. Last year, Washougal adopted a safe-and-sane ordinance that banned projectile or explosive fireworks, including fountains, sparklers, smokeballs and pinwheels. But Dunaway said retailers aren’t on board and worried it would drive sales to Indian reservations or elsewhere.

“They would be afraid it would be the equivalent to a ban in terms of their sales,” he said.

Neighborhood disagreements

Marilee McCall, Clark County neighborhood program coordinator, also presented the results of an opinion survey conducted earlier this month. She said that several neighborhood associations were considering their own survey and she figured that having one countywide survey would produce better data.

The survey received 7,628 responses and produced following conclusions:

• 3,630 respondents said that personal fireworks were not important, while 3,036 said they were “very.”

• 3,669 said they were very concerned about fire hazards and 3,171 were very concerned about garbage.

• Respondents were split when it came to noise, with 3,249 saying they were very concerned and 3,217 saying they were not.

Overall, residents living in more dense areas had more concerns about fireworks while those in more rural areas did not.

Columbian political reporter