County, like cities, may ban fireworks

Snohomish County leaders could soon start considering a countywide ban on fireworks to try to avoid the whopping losses of last year, when fireworks were blamed for more than $4 million in property damage.

Under a new proposal from Councilman Mike Cooper, unincorporated parts of Snohomish County would join local cities that already have full fireworks bans. The county restriction would take effect in 2011 and make it to illegal to own or discharge fireworks. It would apply to rural and urban areas.

“It’s to put an end to fire damage and risk of injury,” said Cooper, a retired career firefighter. “It’s pretty dramatic when you look at the huge losses in the unincorporated area.”

Cooper’s proposal is scheduled for introduction at the County Council’s regular meeting at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

State law says that local fireworks restrictions cannot take effect until a year after being adopted. Cooper is hoping to schedule his proposal for a June 2 hearing so the ban would be in place before June 28 of next year, the first day state law allows vendors to sell fireworks.

Fire District 1, which serves much of southwestern Snohomish County, has been calling for just the kind of ban Cooper has suggested.

“We deal with the brunt of the problem,” said Jim Kenny, the district’s board chairman. “It continues year after year, and it’s preventable.”

Last year, the district responded to three major house fires caused by fireworks in unincorporated areas on July 4 and early July 5. Those blazes caused nearly $1.3 million in damage. Four people in the district also were sent to hospitals with fireworks-related injuries.

Fireworks also started a July 30 fire near Lake Serene in Lynnwood that damaged four houses and caused $500,000 damage.

There were no such fires last year in Mountlake Terrace, where fireworks have been prohibited for three years and where the district provides service under contract.

“There’s a stark difference there,” Kenny said. “We believe that the fireworks ban that Mountlake Terrace has is a factor in the increased safety there on the Fourth of July.”

State figures show that illegal fireworks are known to cause more damage that legal fireworks. Of the 200 injuries the Washington State Fire Marshal recorded last year, 91 involved illegal fireworks, such as homemade explosive devices, mortars and even a tennis-ball bomb. Another 67 injuries involved legal fireworks, such as sparklers, Roman candles and multiple aerials. In 42 cases, authorities could not tell the type of firework used.

Cooper said his proposal would make it easier for authorities to police people using illegal explosives.

“Everything will be illegal, so it won’t be an issue to sort it out,” he said.

Another problem the prohibition might alleviate is animals getting spooked by noise and running away.

Both Everett’s municipal animal shelter and the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, shelter in Lynnwood reported an increase in stray dogs and cats around the Fourth of July holiday.

In July 2009, PAWS brought in 39 of the 213 animals for the month — about 18 percent of the total — between July 4 and 6. In 2008, the shelter received a third of its strays for the entire month during the same three-day period.

“That’s pretty big for just three days,” public affairs coordinator Sylvia Moss said.

Everett’s animal shelter, which serves most of the county, typically sees 50 to 60 extra strays in the week before July 4 and 20 to 30 more the week after, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

Fireworks already are prohibited in Edmonds, Everett, Gold Bar, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway. In Eastern Washington, where summer wildfires are a continual worry, the counties of Franklin, Okanogan, Spokane and Yakima have fireworks bans.

Snohomish County already prohibits owning or discharging firecrackers, bottle rockets and skyrockets. Cooper’s proposed ban would impose a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $1,000 for people who break the law. It would not affect professional fireworks displays by licensed pyrotechnicians.

Noah Haglund: 425-3393465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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