Fireworks were the suspected cause of a fire that damaged two homes in Lake Stevens last year around July 4. (Lake Stevens Fire District)

Fireworks were the suspected cause of a fire that damaged two homes in Lake Stevens last year around July 4. (Lake Stevens Fire District)

Editorial: Heed south county fire officials on fireworks ban

A fireworks ban could limit damage and injuries that occur too often this time of year.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Following the Continental Congress’ vote in July 1776 in favor of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the day should be celebrated each year with “pomp and parade … games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

Regarding the “bonfires and illuminations,” we’re guessing Adams wasn’t having to pay much of a premium on his homeowner’s insurance, otherwise he might have had a different opinion regarding fireworks, at least those in the hands of his neighbors.

Many Snohomish County residents, however, do have to consider insurance payments and the risk for fires, the nuisance of noise — especially for pets — and other impacts from the annual flash, boom and sizzle of consumer fireworks in our Fourth of July celebrations.

A frequent topic of discussion and proposed ordinances for the county and local cities has returned with a petition to the Snohomish County Council from Sound County Fire officials who want the council to bar the sale and use of fireworks in neighborhoods outside of city limits of Everett, Lynnwood and other south county cities, as The Herald’s Noah Haglund reported Sunday.

South County Fire is using a provision in a 2016 ordinance passed by the council that allows for neighborhood-specific fireworks bans. The neighborhood bans require a petition of 51 percent of registered voters in neighborhoods of 50 or more homes or an area of at least a square mile. To date, the county has received no such petitions, but the ordinance also allows for fire districts and authorities to submit the request.

The county council has schedule the issue for its June 26 meeting and could set a hearing in coming weeks. Even if adopted, the ban wouldn’t take effect until 2021’s July 4 celebrations; state law delays implementation of such ordinances for a year if they are more restrictive than state regulation.

The ban would not apply to unincorporated areas in the north end of the county.

The issue of fireworks and whether to ban their sale and use pits issues of safety and nuisance against, well, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It feels a bit antithetical to ban fireworks for the Fourth of July, but there are legitimate concerns regarding their use, legal and illegal.

Pets, especially dogs, can react with fear and anxiety to fireworks. Reports of missing pets can increase 40 percent during the fireworks season.

South County Fire, going back to 2005, has tallied $3.7 million in property damage from fires caused by fireworks. And 262 injuries were reported statewide in 2017, most around the July 4 holiday, to the Washington State Patrol.

And awareness has increased in recent years that fireworks can cause anxiety for those with post-traumatic stress — including combat veterans — and the victims of gun violence.

Fireworks use is in the unincorporated areas of the county are currently limited to the hours of 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4. About half of Snohomish County’s cities have banned consumer fireworks outright. The others, including Arlington, Bothell, Darrington, Granite Falls, Index, Lake Stevens, Monroe and Snohomish, have regulations similar to the county; Stanwood and Sultan have no restrictions beyond state law.

Another county ordinance in 2016 gives the county fire marshal the authority to declare an emergency and ban fireworks during periods of extreme drought. Currently, low snowpack and a warmer and drier spring have resulted in moderate drought conditions in Snohomish County and much of Western Washington.

Fireworks bans and regulations are a challenge to enforce, but a ban on their sale would make them more difficult to acquire, which could limit their use.

In recent years, the county council has stopped short of a countywide all-out ban on fireworks, instead leaving the option available to neighborhood majorities and fire officials.

Jim Kenny, board chairman for South County Fire, noted in seeking the ban the extent and growth in the areas the agency is expected to protect from fires and injuries.

“That makes it very challenging and very dangerous to use fireworks amongst so many homes and so many people,” he told The Herald.

The council should take seriously the expertise and knowledge of fire officials and extend a fireworks ban in the south county’s unincorporated areas as requested.

Some will protest the ban, but it doesn’t have to mean a less enjoyable Fourth. Along with professional fireworks displays, a ban on consumer fireworks would still leave us with Adams’ pomp, parade and more.

And it could mean fewer homes lost to fire and fewer dogs — and fingers and eyes — lost to their owners.

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