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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Once again, it’s time to talk about fireworks

The Columbian
Published: June 13, 2024, 6:03am

Clark County’s fireworks season lasts, at most, a few days. But the fireworks debate season lasts much longer.

With a couple of weeks to go until the stands are open, the Camas City Council has already kicked off the debate season. According to our sister paper, the Camas-Washougal Post-Record, city councilors once again revisited the city’s fireworks laws and whether they should be further restricted.

There are many arguments for and against fireworks laws. Fireworks fans talk about patriotism, tradition and fun, citing founding father John Adams, who declared Independence Day should be celebrated with “…Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Those who hate fireworks talk about how they affect pets and people sensitive to noise, including military veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. They discuss injuries, and talk about how fireworks cause fires, most notably the 2017 Eagle Creek fire that burned 50,000 acres in the heart of the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

None of these arguments are new, and none of them seem persuasive, at least not in Camas. “We simply don’t agree on this issue,” Councilor Marilyn Boerke said at the June 3 city council meeting. “I don’t see any outcome that will be positive. Even when we vote, the issue won’t die.”

Boerke is correct. People largely have their minds made up. So why do we keep debating it? There are two major reasons.

The first reason the issue won’t die is the patchwork nature of local fireworks laws. According to Clark County, there are 10 different jurisdictions with 10 different rules about sales and use of personal fireworks.

In Hazel Dell, for example, fireworks sales are legal and they can be discharged from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4, and on New Year’s Eve. In La Center, you can’t fire them off on Dec. 31, but July 3 is permissible. Washougal allows only use of “safe and sane” fireworks that don’t leave the ground, but Camas doesn’t make that restriction. Vancouver bans all fireworks sales and use, but it’s hard for most people, even if they want to obey the law, to tell where the city limits begin and end.

And, of course, you can raise a hullaballoo in Yacolt practically anytime from June 29 to July 5, and again on New Year’s Eve.

Lack of effective enforcement also fuels the unhappiness over fireworks. Last year, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency recruited and trained volunteers to take fireworks complaint calls so as not to overwhelm 911 operators. The volunteers logged almost 1,500 complaints. But Vancouver officials were able to issue only 32 citations. Clearly there is a “I won’t get caught” attitude on the part of too many people when it comes to following fireworks regulations.

Finally, money is a contributing reason. Consumer fireworks were a $2.2 billion business in the U.S. last year, according to the trade group American Pyrotechnics Association, with sales growing threefold in just the last 10 years. Although data isn’t readily available, Clark County fireworks sales likely total multimillions of dollars. Besides our local demand, Portland bans fireworks sale and use, but due to the lack of enforcement, those who want a show bring their money to Clark County.

In other words, we can argue about fireworks laws and restrictions all we want. But few are going to be convinced to change their minds. Meanwhile, the system is set up to keep this debate running, without possibility of consensus, indefinitely.