EVERETT — A request to ban fireworks in the South County Fire District brought 40 minutes of boisterous public comment earlier this week followed by a noticeable silence from the Snohomish County Council.
Citing risks to the safety of people, pets and property, a request was made to prohibit fireworks.
“You’ve heard me state before that if it is predictable, it is preventable,” said interim Fire Chief Doug Dahl, of South County Fire. “We know we will have fires, we know we will have injuries, we know we will have an increase in 911 calls, most likely double, and we know we will hear from our residents who are afraid to leave their house on the Fourth of July in fear of fire.”
While the topic was nowhere to be found on Wednesday morning’s agenda, impassioned people on both sides flocked to a meeting of the lone governing body with authority to ban the sale and use of fireworks outside city limits.
Pointing to a provision of the 2016 ordinance that gave fire authorities, rather than voters, a say in neighborhood-specific firework bans, South County Fire submitted a formal request to prohibit fireworks within its boundaries. It’s a ban they’ve been seeking for more than a decade.
“This new ordinance, and our petition, give both of us the tools to eliminate that gap, prevent the injuries and possible loss of life and property, as well as restore a sense of security, safety and peace of mind to the people we serve,” Dahl said.
Dotti Snow painted a grim picture of her Crystal Lake neighborhood of Woodinville, part of unincorporated Snohomish County, when she spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.
She described 64 houses, packed tightly amidst an enclosure of hundreds of acres of woods. With only one access point to the area and no fire hydrants, Snow’s concerns of fire are amplified during fireworks season. She supports a ban.
Snow’s situation is common in South County. Urbanization has created a necessity for a firework ban, according to its proponents.
“We have houses stacked against each other,” Dahl said after the meeting. “That’s why we feel it really fits for (the) South County Fire agency”
Opponents of the ban say prohibitions have never worked and that the tradition of July Fourth fireworks would continue unimpeded. A half dozen of them spoke in opposition to the fire district’s proposal.
“Eliminating legal and safe firework retailers, whose products are inspected by county fire marshals, pushes a consumer closer to accessing fireworks on the Indian reservations where people may purchase things like M-80s, firecrackers or bottle rockets that are already illegal off the reservation, but still seem to be a constant fire threat countywide,” said Mike Luke, a former fireworks stand operator and resident of the Alderwood Manor neighborhood within the fire district.
Council Chairman Terry Ryan, whose district crosses paths with the South County Fire District, understands this is a complex issue.
As a self-proclaimed “safety nut” with a background on local fire boards, Ryan is in favor of a fireworks ban, but ultimately he believes a decision should be left to people.
“I think it should go to the ballot and we should respect the vote,” Ryan said.
With nothing on the agenda, the council swiftly switched away from the contentious topic after public comment, but the issue will have to be resolved.
The council’s next step will be to hold a public hearing at a yet-to-be-determined date, before considering any further action.
If fireworks were to be outlawed, state law requires a year delay before it would take effect. That means any restrictions would not be seen until at least 2021.
Included in the ban proposal are the Eastmont and Mariner areas of unincorporated Everett, plus the Silver Firs development east of Mill Creek, Picnic Point south of Mukilteo and some places near Silver Lake. It would cover the Lynnwood-area neighborhoods of Lake Serene, Lake Stickney, Martha Lake and Meadowdale. The Esperance enclave that’s surrounded by Edmonds would be affected, as would the Hilltop area between Lynnwood and Bothell.
In the meantime, Dahl encourages restraint.
“Be safe,” he said. “Have a bucket of water, have a cellphone so you can call and don’t assume that (because a firework) says ‘safe’ they are safe. As soon as you light a pyrotechnic it becomes unsafe and unpredictable.”
For more information about fireworks laws in Washington, visit www.wsp.wa.gov/fireworks.