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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council votes to limit fireworks sales, use

Fireworks not considered "safe and sane" will be prohibited

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: December 1, 2020, 1:37pm

Clark County’s tradition of neighborhood aerial fireworks displays will be coming to an end after next year, following a vote Tuesday by the Clark County Council.

The council voted 3-2 to ban all but “safe and sane” fireworks that  travel no more than 1 foot into the air and no more than 6 feet along the ground.

The ordinance, which applies to unincorporated areas, will take effect Dec. 1, 2021. Current rules will apply for New Year’s Eve 2020 and July 4, 2021.

The ordinance does not apply to fireworks shows like those at the Fort Vancouver National Site or the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.

What’s legal?

Until Clark County’s policy changes on Dec. 1, 2021, legal fireworks in unincorporated areas include cylindrical fountains, smoke devices, Roman candles, parachutes, wheels, ground spinners, reloadable mortars, dipped sticks, sparklers and novelties. Fireworks may be used from 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1 and from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4. Rules vary by jurisdiction in Clark County, though fireworks are banned outright in Vancouver.

Clark County Fire Marshal Dan Young told the council that his office receives hundreds of fireworks noise complaints annually around the Fourth of July holiday. This summer, he said, the office responded to five blazes caused by fireworks, including two house fires — causing about $40,000 worth of damage — one vehicle fire, a dumpster fire and a brush fire.

Fireworks are currently allowed to be discharged in unincorporated Clark County from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4 and 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1. Rules vary by jurisdiction in Clark County, though fireworks are banned outright in Vancouver.

Councilors have held more than a dozen discussions about fireworks in recent years. The county most recently updated fireworks rules ahead of the Fourth of July holiday in 2019, when it narrowed the time window in which residents were allowed to set off fireworks.

Councilors John Blom, Temple Lentz and Julie Olson voted in favor of the ordinance, while Councilor Gary Medvigy and Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien voted against.

Olson, who represents District 2, which covers the northwest portion of the county and includes the cities of Ridgefield and La Center, said that the fireworks issue is the No. 1 topic she hears from constituents. She has mentioned damage caused by fireworks as well as the noise that can disturb veterans, senior citizens and animals.

Medvigy, who represents rural District 4 on the east side of the county, and Quiring O’Brien have been against considering the ordinance this year. They cited the lack of in-person public commenting at council meetings due to COVID-19 and the recent changes in the county’s previous fireworks rules.

County residents submitted about 230 written comments regarding the proposal — about 63 percent of which opposed the new rules, according to Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto. At the meeting Tuesday, a staffer read 20 of the comments, 12 in favor and eight opposed to roughly represent the difference of opinion.

Tracy Flores wrote that, when a neighbor set off fireworks on the Fourth of July this year, debris collected on her roof and in her gutter and yard, and she still finds pieces of plastic. Flores said the neighbor was unwilling to help with the cleanup, which cost her $75.

“The responsible choice is obvious and the reason that many other cities in Washington state have already taken this step,” Flores wrote. “Let’s do the right thing and be good stewards of our residents, pets, wildlife and natural surroundings.”

Most commenters, however, disagreed.

“The true meaning of (Fourth of July) has been lost in politics, political correctness and divisions in today’s society. We must never forget the sacrifices that others have made in gaining our independence and freedoms,” Andy Matson wrote. “Fireworks make people happy, and they should have the liberty to enjoy them.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter