Ban the freelance fireworks in county

OK, maybe this is a stretch, but a couple of proposals to ban fireworks might actually be a celebration of democracy worthy of the Fourth of July.

They certainly wouldn’t be as colorful, exciting and loud as the impromptu and — let’s admit it — usually illegal displays of pyrotechnics that light up neighborhood backyards, but that’s the idea.

Fireworks are ingrained in our Fourth of July celebrations, and the publicly organized and professionally run displays bring together communities and cap a day of celebration.

It’s the freelance shows in our neighborhoods and throughout the county that have been the problem, prompting noise complaints, starting brushfires and house fires and causing some disastrous injuries to kids and adults. In unincorporated south Snohomish County, Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, Fire District 1 reports that it has tallied more than $3 million in property losses in the past decade.

Every year since 2009, officials with Fire District 1 have pleaded with county leaders to impose a countywide ban on the sale and use of fireworks.

Snohomish County Council members Stephanie Wright and Hans Dunshee have responded with two separate proposals. Wright is seeking to give the county fire marshal the authority to declare an emergency when conditions warrant and ban fireworks. State law doesn’t allow counties to declare such emergencies without first going through a year-long process to give that authority to county fire marshals. So far, only San Juan and Douglas counties have taken the steps to give that power to their marshals. A public hearing for Wright’s proposal is schedule for June 29, and if passed, could go into effect next year at this time.

Dunshee’s idea is to allow individual neighborhoods in unincorporated Snohomish County the authority to institute their own bans. Residents in a community could circulate a petition; if a majority agreed, a fireworks ban would be put in place.

The problem with such bans of pyrotechnics is how frequently and blatantly they are ignored. The county’s current code allows fireworks to be set off only between the hours of 9 and 11:59 p.m. on July 4; clearly, there’s an awful lot of rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air that already isn’t supposed to be happening. And it’s unrealistic to expect sheriff’s deputies — or the police in cities where fireworks are already banned — to successfully douse the enthusiasm of scofflaws.

Here’s where the celebration of democracy comes in: Dunshee’s proposal, while it won’t stop all illegal fireworks, at least would bring some neighborhood pressure — backed by the agreement of the community — to bear on those who use them. Maybe the freelance pyrotechnicians would be less likely to use fireworks when they know they’re going against the wishes of their neighbors. There will be those who have as little respect for their neighbors as they do for the county’s rules and law enforcement, but maybe a few would think twice.

Nobody wants to put a damper on Independence Day celebrations. But, especially after wildfire seasons in the state that broke records in terms of destruction and costs and two early wildfires in the county this spring, it should be obvious that illegal fireworks, even when allowed in that three-hour window, put our communities and neighbors at risk.

Go watch your community’s fireworks show and save your matches for the barbecue grill.

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