Clark County officials offered additional details Wednesday about why they banned fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July.
The county announced the ban on Tuesday, following days of record-breaking heat. In addition to unincorporated areas, other jurisdictions that have enacted bans this week include Battle Ground, Ridgefield, La Center, Camas and Washougal. Vancouver had already permanently banned sales and use of fireworks within city limits.
The Clark County Code grants the county council chair, after consulting with the fire marshal, the ability to ban the sale and discharge of fireworks during periods of extreme fire danger. The chair can enact a ban when the following thresholds are reported by the state Department of Natural Resources:
- The burning index is extreme as determined for the entire county.
- The fuel moisture content of the 10-hour fuels is below eight anywhere in the county.
- The energy-release component is in the 90th percentile.
County Fire Marshal Dan Young said during a council time meeting Wednesday that he and Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien spoke about DNR figures released Monday afternoon, when temperatures in the area reached 115 degrees.
The burning index was considered extreme and the energy-release component — a number related to the available energy per unit area within the flaming front at the head of a fire — was well above 90 percent, Young said. The fuel moisture content — a measure of the amount of water in a fuel, such as vegetation, available to a fire — was six.
“We have met extreme temperatures that nobody ever predicted,” Young said. “All the fire chiefs agree with this ban. They wanted it.”
Quiring O’Brien said the code requirements are stringent enough that she never thought the county would meet the thresholds, pointing to “a very unusual time.” She also said the county is “following the letter of the law.”
“I am very pro fireworks and liberty and freedom and all of those things,” said Quiring O’Brien, who opposed permanent fireworks restrictions discussed by the council late last year and early this year. “It’s a tinderbox. This is a very commonsense move.”
Councilor Gary Medvigy noted that he discussed the issue with Young weeks ago, when the county was already facing drought conditions.
“This has been building through the whole spring,” Medvigy said. “This wasn’t just a week of hot weather.”
The recent, unprecedented heat wave played a major role, though.
“The timing simply could not have been worse,” Medvigy said. “‘We’re all really upset over it, and we had no control over when these extreme conditions landed.”
Wave of feedback
As of Wednesday morning, Clark County was the only county in Southwest Washington that had enacted a ban, Young said.
The ban was met with frustration and scrutiny from local fireworks retailers.
Beau Leach, general manager of TNT Fireworks Warehouse in Hazel Dell, spent much of Wednesday speaking with DNR officials about the formulas used to justify the ban. Leach said the county technically followed the law but used a selective interpretation of the energy-release component.
“The law was supposed to be very specific so there was no ambiguity; yet, here we have a very short period, on one day, where every other day of the season wouldn’t have come close to qualifying,” Leach said. “I’m just very disappointed that that was the decision that they made.”
Young did not respond to a request from The Columbian for the DNR reports the county used.
County Councilor Karen Bowerman said she had received questions from constituents about whether the recent cooldown — though daily high temperatures are still not expected to drop below 80 degrees this week — might lead the county to reverse the ban.
Young said the short time window between Wednesday and the holiday on Sunday could lead to confusion if the county reversed the ban. He also said that even if one rainfall takes place this week, it would not be the “end-all, be-all for the content of the moisture.”
“The consensus was that if we put the ban in place, it would be through the Fourth of July,” Young said.
County officials have received a wave of emails and phone calls from county residents who were supportive of or against the ban. Young said he answered emails until 9 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s such a divisive but emotional thing that people needed a response from me,” Young said. “I appreciate the people that are happy with me, but I understand that there are also people that are not happy with me.”