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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Camas officials debate changing rules on discharge of fireworks

Council considers more limitations, enforcement of city’s fireworks rules

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: April 5, 2024, 6:05am

CAMAS — Camas officials this week resumed a yearslong debate over how the city should tackle the sale and discharge of personal fireworks.

During the Camas City Council’s Monday workshop, members of the ad hoc fireworks committee — Councilmen Tim Hein and John Nohr — said the council “continues to receive messages and input from residents who are concerned about the impacts of fireworks.”

Hein said whether the city should further limit fireworks is something constituents often bring up.

“This is one of the topics I get consistently,” Hein said. “In the end, it comes down to rights and responsibility — the rights of constituents to let off fireworks and the responsibility to do it safely. But, once you’ve set it off, you lose control. At what point do your rights to let them off compare to the rights of other citizens to be safe?”

Currently, fireworks are allowed in Camas from 9 a.m. to midnight July 4 and 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1.

In 2023, according to the county’s emergency dispatch center, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department responded to nine fireworks-related fires while East County Fire and Rescue responded to five fireworks-related fires.

“Most were grass fires … though we did have one house on top of Sierra that had over $100,000 in fire damage,” Nohr said, adding that the fire likely had smoldered throughout the night and ignited very early the next morning. Nohr works as a fire chief in north Clark County. “When you have things going into the air and coming down, it’s not uncommon to have small fires. And the ones that aren’t seen — that go off into the trees — can really take off.”

Camas is surrounded by jurisdictions that have taken measures to limit the use of personal fireworks. Vancouver and Portland have both banned the sale and use of personal fireworks year-round. Washougal allows “safe and sane” fireworks — which typically do not make loud noises and do not leave the ground — but has banned the use of all other personal fireworks.

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Noise complaints related to fireworks in 2023 totaled 10 in Camas and 39 in Washougal over the July 4 holiday.

But Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Cliff Free said Monday “the number of noise complaints doesn’t describe what the Fourth of July looks like for responders.”

The fire chief urged council members to not rely only on numbers.

“Don’t underestimate the strength of how people feel about this issue,” Free said.

He added there have been fireworks-related injuries in Camas-Washougal, including the loss of fingers.

“We’ve had fireworks injuries — but not a lot,” Free said. “This is a policy decision, but I think the problem is bigger than those slides belie. … From a fire chief’s perspective, I look at the risks to the community — and fireworks is literally playing with fire.”

Hein said he would like to see if the city could ban certain types of fireworks, including mortars, without going down the “safe and sane fireworks only” route like Washougal.

Councilman John Svilarich said he would like to consider shortening the time period during which fireworks could legally be discharged on July 4 and New Year’s Eve.

But not everyone sees the need for change.

Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said she believes sticking with the city’s current policy is a better approach.

“It seems the status quo is probably the best way to move forward,” Senescu said. “I don’t think ‘safe and sane’ is working. I was at the port’s fireworks and looked behind me, and there were bigger fireworks in Washougal. I don’t think people follow it, and it’s difficult to enforce.”

Camas Police Chief Tina Jones has said responding to every single fireworks-related call is difficult.

“I have seven officers for the whole day, not all at once,” Jones said, adding that more serious calls would take precedence over misdemeanor calls for fireworks-related infractions.

Some council members said they would like to learn more about the possibility of requiring a permit for fireworks during allowed days; Zillah, near Yakima, requires a permit as part of its fireworks ordinance.

Councilwoman Bonnie Carter asked Nohr and Hein to meet with Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher to get more information about Zillah’s fireworks permit and come back with “more tangible policy changes” for the council to consider.

Camas Administrator Doug Quinn said he would find a date for the council to discuss the fireworks issue and the possibility of passing a new fireworks ordinance before July 4, though any new rules wouldn’t go into effect before 2025.