County Council may give fire marshal power over fireworks

EVERETT — In the weeks leading up to July 4, a pre-holiday ritual has played out in front of the Snohomish County Council.

For years without fail, firefighters have been showing up to implore their elected officials to ban fireworks in unincorporated areas. Homeowners give testimonials about property damage, personal safety and cleaning up other people’s spent fireworks from their yards.

And nothing happens.

This year, things might be different.

One council member has suggested a new law giving the county fire marshal the power to ban fireworks during emergency conditions, such as the unusually hot, dry weather the region experienced last year.

“It would only be drought situations and it would be up to a professional — not politicians — somebody who could gauge actual risks,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Wright, who suggested the measure.

Wright’s proposed ordinance is set for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. June 29 in council chambers. If approved, it would take effect a year later.

Separately, Councilman Hans Dunshee has been exploring the concept of no-fireworks zones, similar to the county’s no-shooting zones. Neighbors would decide for themselves whether to be included.

“Hopefully this is another tool for folks to get their neighbors to behave,” Dunshee said.

Under the proposal, people could gather signatures to create mini-bans for unincorporated areas, if a majority agree. Not everyone will, though.

Maybe there are some parts of the county “where people say, ‘Hey, we’re having fun, leave us alone,’ ” Dunshee said.

Variations on a partial ban include prohibiting the sale or discharge of fireworks in urban-growth areas, particularly those surrounding cities that already have bans in place.

The new fireworks proposals would not affect professional displays with permits.

As is, many Independence Day complaints focus on activities that are illegal already.

Current county code only allows people to set off fireworks in unincorporated areas between 9 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. July 4. Firecrackers, bottle rockets and M-80s aren’t allowed at all.

Edmonds, Everett, Gold Bar, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway all ban fireworks.

Brier City Council members voted this week to prohibit fireworks in their community of 6,500 people. Brier’s ban will take effect in 2017, as will one that Marysville passed earlier this year.

With a population of about 205,000, the county’s unincorporated areas are larger than any local city.

Snohomish County Fire District 1 continues to press for a countywide ban on selling or lighting off fireworks. The district’s fire commissioners sent the County Council a resolution Wednesday urging them to move in that direction. They’ve been making the same request since 2009.

“Citizens tell us they’re afraid to leave their homes on July 4 because of all the fireworks going off in their neighborhoods,” Jim McGaughey, chairman of the fire district’s board of commissioners, said in a press release. “We are asking for a ban to restore their sense of security, reduce injuries and cut property losses.”

Over the past 10 years, fireworks have been responsible for more than $3 million in property loss in Fire District 1, which covers unincorporated south Snohomish County, Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. District officials said fireworks were responsible for displacing 15 households from homes and apartments during that time.

Though he would like a ban for all unincorporated areas, McGaughey also supports measures that aren’t as far-reaching. He likes the idea of a ban in the county’s urban growth areas, some of which are as densely populated as neighboring cities.

“We don’t consider them any different than the cities that have already enacted an all-out ban on the use and sale of fireworks,” he said.

Potential dangers exist in rural areas as well.

In May, hundreds of acres burned near Oso and Gold Bar, providing an early warning about wildfire risks in Western Washington.

Fireworks-related damage during last year’s Independence Day celebrations included a house fire in Monroe and two people in Marysville who lost fingers. There were numerous brush fires. Emergency dispatchers received a record number of 911 calls.

Seventeen people were treated for fireworks-related wounds at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and another four at Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington.

The most common injuries were eye problems, burns and blast wounds to hands.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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