Fireworks danger rises with heat

EVERETT — Hot, dry weather, mixed in with a holiday that’s celebrated with flames and flammables, has firefighters worried about the approaching Fourth of July.

Nervous homeowners are making their fire concerns known, too.

Usually, rain brings reprieve each year around the same time as the holiday, tamping down the concern of blazes, said Brad Reading, an assistant chief at Snohomish County Fire District 1.

“This year is really dry,” he said.

Fireworks have been banned in Everett for nearly 20 years but can be seen and heard in the city every year, Fire Marshal Rick Robinson said. These are the worst conditions for the holiday he has ever seen.

“We are extremely vulnerable to fires in general and, certainly, as we approach the Fourth, fires caused by fireworks,” he said.

Everett police plan to assign teams during the holiday weekend to enforce fireworks laws, officer Aaron Snell said. Any fireworks found being used illegally will be seized. People lighting them off face fines and jail time.

Last year, 26 fireworks-related fires were reported in Snohomish County, according to a state report.

And fires aren’t the only problem. Hospitals in the county reported 31 people being treated for injuries from fireworks. One victim was 5 years old, injured by sparklers. Another child had part of his hand amputated after holding a Roman Candle that exploded.

Fireworks behave in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways, in particular ones that shoot into the air, Robinson said. They can land on roofs and porches, or in bushes next to the siding on homes.

“In my history, before fireworks were banned, it was quite common to go to fires where the entire roof would burn off the top of the house,” Robinson said.

Anyone using fireworks in areas where they are allowed should keep a bucket of water ready nearby, Reading said.

Most of the cities in south county have banned fireworks, though this is the first year for a ban in Lynnwood. People instead are encouraged to go to a public show, spokeswoman Julie Moore said.

“Anyone caught discharging fireworks in the city limits will have their fireworks confiscated,” she said.

Some people have pushed for an emergency fireworks ban statewide, but the State Fire Marshal’s Office has no authority to do that. Only counties, cities and other municipal governments have the power to limit or prohibit the sale of consumer fireworks, Deputy State Fire Marshal Lysandra Davis said. Fireworks are illegal on forests protected by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Fire District 1 every year has pushed for a county-wide ban on the devices. Under state law, a fireworks ban cannot take effect until a year after it’s enacted. In other words, the county would have to act before July 4 this year for a ban to take place in 2016.

That’s also why Lynnwood’s ban comes long after the lengthy council discussions.

On Wednesday, frustrated homeowners asked Snohomish County council members to prohibit fireworks in all unincorporated areas of the county. There’s no sign that’s about to happen.

“I’m a little frustrated,” said Jeff Caldwell, a retired Seattle police officer with two young daughters who lives in the Picnic Point area.

Caldwell spoke of filling a whole trash can with debris from his yard after his neighbor’s July 4 fireworks displays. He worries about fire damage, air pollution and litter.

“We don’t need to display our patriotism with hazardous materials that are made in China,” he said.

Nancy Mitrano, who lives near Snohomish, said she’s favored a county-wide ban ever since an errant firework shot into her garage two years ago.

“It almost set my entire house on fire,” she said.

She also said authorities appear to be doing little to stop the people from lighting off fireworks for weeks ahead of July 4 — the only day of the year they’re allowed.

The county has limited resources to police fireworks violations, County Council Chairman Dave Somers said.

“That’s not an excuse,” Somers said. “That’s just the way it is for the county.”

Fire District 1 already has seen deck fires started by cigarettes this season, Reading said.

On Thursday night, the Lynnwood Fire Department reported that a brush fire at Meadowdale High School was started by fireworks. The fire burned an area about 30 feet by 200 feet near the track. Police are investigating.

Fireworks are banned on all Edmonds School District properties. Staff patrols are planned for the holiday weekend.

During the Fourth of July, they typically see as many injuries from legal fireworks as illegal ones, Reading said.

Another big problem is people checking on fireworks that appear to have fizzled.

“If you have a firework that doesn’t go off, don’t go near for it awhile and soak it, don’t try to relight it,” Reading said.

Children need constant supervision by adults, and should not be allowed to handle fireworks, even sparklers, Reading said. Sparklers are essentially a combination of burning metal and chemicals.

“They burn extremely hot and can easily burn children,” he said.

Lastly, all fireworks remnants should be soaked and put into a metal container after the festivities.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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