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Monday, December 11, 2023
Dec. 11, 2023

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Sparks fly between July 4 fireworks competitors

Hazel Dell fireworks sellers rejoice ahead of America’s birthday

By , Columbian staff writer
8 Photos
Shoppers visit TNT Fireworks, left, and the nearby Blackjack Fireworks while preparing for their Fourth of July celebrations Friday morning. Fireworks business owners expect crowds to grow larger and larger over the weekend; they'll also be open on Monday.
Shoppers visit TNT Fireworks, left, and the nearby Blackjack Fireworks while preparing for their Fourth of July celebrations Friday morning. Fireworks business owners expect crowds to grow larger and larger over the weekend; they'll also be open on Monday. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, one of Clark County’s most explosive business rivalries is heating up.

In Hazel Dell, BlackJack Fireworks and TNT Fireworks live and breathe the summer holiday — selling millions of dollars of fireworks right next door to one another. Colorful signs posted outside each business poke fun at their competitor, all while looming above Interstate 5.

“Beats giant tent prices every day,” argues BlackJack’s sign, pasted on the side of its building.

“HEY! What are you doing over there? Did you come to buy fireworks or stand in line?” retorts TNT Fireworks’ signs facing its competitor. “We beat BlackJack every day!”

At each establishment, the sheer size of the inventory is a sight to behold.

“We’re the Costco of fireworks,” said Beau Leach, the general manager at TNT Fireworks, beckoning to the 20-foot-tall aisles of explosives and gear.

Setting off fireworks can pose serious safety hazards, including the risk of fire. To celebrate safely, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends the following:

  • Always read the directions.
  • Have an adult present for proper supervision.
  • Never experiment, take fireworks apart, mix anything with fireworks contents, or try to make fireworks.
  • Always light fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from houses and away from flammable materials.
  • Light one device at a time.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies.
  • Maintain a safe distance after lighting devices.
  • Dispose of fireworks properly and soak malfunctioning devices in or with water.
  • Never allow small children to handle fireworks.
  • Always store fireworks in a dry, cool place and avoid rough handling that might damage the fuses or handles.
  • Never ignite fireworks in metal or glass containers.

Leach, an evident veteran of the industry in his 15th year as TNT’s leader, claims his is the single largest fireworks-selling tent in the world. He estimates that TNT had over $2 million worth of product in store in 2020. Each year, TNT receives more than 100 orders that exceed $1,000.

“We’ve asked everyone known to man; that’s how we know,” he said. “We sell more fireworks in this tent than entire states do.”

Across a small road, a stone’s throw away, BlackJack has other claims to fame.

“Vancouver is certainly a competitive market,” said Jeremy Mohney, the store manager at BlackJack. “This location has a unique characteristic that it’s been here longer. That’s why we’re in an actual building.”

Outside the storefront looms a huge display for the “Excalibur,” a releasable cannister shell firework that Mohney said has been BlackJack’s statement item for over a decade.

‘Last year was surreal’

Last summer, a record-setting heat wave caused the authorities in Clark County and Portland to halt the sale and use of fireworks through the July 4 holiday — a move that both Leach and Mohney understood but were still devastated by.

“Last year was surreal. It was disorienting,” Leach said. “We’ve been doing this for years and years. This is what we do during the summer. To have the rug ripped out like that was shocking.”

This year, TNT and BlackJack both say customers have been thrilled to celebrate the holiday the way they usually do — while still trying to remind customers of the dangers and risks that fireworks pose to physical and environmental safety.

“The message is the same every year: Have a water hose handy and always have an adult present,” Mohney said.

Leach said TNT makes all customers aware of the best conditions in which to use its products, adding that most accidents or fires that result from fireworks are typically due to user error or carelessness, such as setting off fireworks near dry grass or doing so while inebriated.

Though sales in Clark County are allowed this year, the usage of fireworks is still banned within Vancouver and Portland city limits. To see whether your home falls within city limits, check Clark County Community Development’s fireworks.

On July 4, Clark County residents are permitted to use fireworks from 9 p.m. to midnight. The 142nd Wing out of Portland’s Air National Guard Base is also conducting celebratory flyovers at 11 a.m. above Camas and at 11:06 a.m. above Ridgefield.

Last week, Clark County officials reminded residents to call 911 or 311 only with concerns relating to injuries or fires. All concerns relating to noise or disturbances should be directed to the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency’s fireworks nuisance complaint call center at 360-597-7888.

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