PACIFIC COUNTY — This year, citing an unusually dry June and high fire danger, two cities in Pacific County are banning citizen use of projectile and aerial fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday.
At a special meeting today, June 26, the city of Ilwaco voted to pass an ordinance allowing Ilwaco Fire Chief Tom Williams to declare a fireworks ban in the city limits, but will have to schedule another special meeting for Monday to actually approve the ordinance.
Under the original wording, the ordinance (and thus the ban) couldn’t go into effect until five days after it was passed, approved and published. Under city guidelines, for the ordinance to be considered published a notice would have had to go out to The Chinook Observer, which publishes on Wednesdays. In that scenario, the ordinance would not have been official until after the holiday.
Now the city will pass the ordinance as a “special emergency” Monday. Once passed, Williams will declare when the ban is in place and when it is lifted.
Ilwaco will still hold its annual fireworks display at the Port of Ilwaco at dusk on July 3.
The other city to declare a fireworks ban was South Bend. It has had an ordinance in place since December 2005 allowing the fire and police chiefs to declare a fireworks ban at their discretion. Unlike the city of Ilwaco, officials in South Bend simple had to announce that a ban was now in effect for this year’s Fourth of July holiday.
In a June 23 letter, South Bend Fire Chief Alan Ashley and Police Chief David Eastham wrote the upcoming Fourth of July weekend “is expected to be one of the driest in recent history” and asked city residents to use extreme caution.
A countywide limited burn ban is already in place, and Cape Disappointment State Park is operating under a “medium” level fire alert. According to a state parks, as of June 18, park visitors are not allowed to have wood fires on the beach. Charcoal-based fires and wood fires are only allowed in designated areas. Gas and propane are allowed. The ban limits the size of recreational cooking fires to no more than 2 feet in diameter and 16 inches in height.
On average, Ilwaco sees roughly two inches of rain in June, said Ilwaco City Councilor Gary Forner, who has been tracking rainfall and weather in the city for more than a decade. This June, Ilwaco had only a quarter of an inch of rain, he said.
“So you can see we’re pretty dry,” he said at the special meeting June 26.
Citizens in attendance worried about the city’s ability to enforce the ordinance when a ban is in effect. Ilwaco does not have its own police department and relies on the city of Long Beach’s police department.
“Who is going to enforce it and how are the going to enforce it? Or is this just another law that no one enforces?” asked Ann Saari.
After some discussion and additional feedback from the six citizens who attended the meeting, the council decided to add enforcement provisions from the existing city code to the ordinance. City code chapter 8.18, sections 60, 70, 80 and 90 outline what sort of actions police can take to deal with people who break the ordinance, how much those people can be fined and what the civil penalties and process look like.
Under the ordinance, anyone caught discharging, firing or throwing an exploding or burning device, including legal aerial and projectile fireworks, could face a fine of up to $250. Fireworks that don’t travel or explode can still be used, including fireworks like sparklers and smoke bombs.
In South Bend, people caught using aerial devices such as paper lanterns and parachutes, or projectile fireworks, such as rockets and mortars, are subject to a $1,000 fine.
Under state law, fireworks can only be shot off from June 28 to July 5 and on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31 from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Jan. 1.
Saari commented that she would like to see Ilwaco pass a permanent ban on private fireworks. The loud noises caused by private fireworks exploding intermittently at all hours of the day can be troubling to people dealing with trauma, as well as being particularly distressing to pets, she said, adding the city’s official fireworks “should be our celebration.”
There are numerous safety concerns, too, she said. After one Fourth of July holiday, she said she found an exploded bottle rocket on her wooden deck; a friend found one on her roof. It was a wetter year that year, so nothing burned, she said. “This year it very well could.”
“It’s a small step, but it’s headed in the right direction,” said Forner about the ordinance and the ban. Ilwaco is a unique among the Long Beach Peninsula cities, in that it has many steep hills covered in trees and brush, he explained. If a spark escaped or a lit firework landed in the hills, it could easily trigger a large fire.
Those in attendance pointed out that fireworks are being sold right up the road in Long Beach where no fireworks ban has yet been contemplated.
“If we can keep Ilwaco safe,” Forner said, “that’s what we need to do.”