Lighting off illicit fireworks isn’t exactly stealthy, as far as crimes go. And in Vancouver, where fireworks have been banned since 2016, code enforcement officers from the fire marshal’s office have already started issuing tickets in the week leading up to the Fourth of July.
The fine for lighting fireworks within city limits is $500, for the first offense.
“They could be subject to more, if they cause property damage,” Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli cautioned.
It’s been fairly quiet so far in the days leading up to the holiday, Scarpelli said. But the big boom will likely come on Saturday. Last year, she reported, her office issued 64 tickets. In 2018, they clocked 104 violations on the holiday.
This year, she said, is a bit of a wild card. It’s a weird time in general. That strangeness could leak into Independence Day celebrations.
Usually, Vancouver residents would recognize the holiday by gathering at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and watching the annual fireworks extravaganza, an event that at the height of its 58-year history would draw 60,000 people. This year, the show has been canceled due to concerns about large crowds spreading COVID-19.
For other Fourth of July celebrations, too, the coronavirus is the proverbial fly in the watermelon.
A day that’s meant to bring communities together will need to adapt to the realities of social distancing, as the holiday weekend comes on the tail of the single worst week for new infections in the county since the outbreak started four months ago. Attendees at smaller-scale celebrations, from backyard barbecues to family beach trips, will also have to make their decisions with COVID-19 in mind.
People are antsy. They’re looking for an outlet, and it’s really, really fun to blow up stuff.
That restlessness is playing out at local fireworks retailers. Beau Leach, general manager of TNT Fireworks Warehouse in Hazel Dell, told The Columbian last week that sales aren’t just good this year — they’re “on fire.”
The storm of variables might amount to a busy night for the fire marshal’s office, Scarpelli said.
“It’s hard to predict. We have considered there might be a potential uptick in personal fireworks,” Scarpelli said. “While most — I would say 95 percent — of our population in our community follow the law, there’s always a few that try to risk it.”
When it comes to fire safety, the weather also plays a critical role in the days leading up to the holiday.
“A little bit of rain can go a long way,” Scarpelli said.
While the city saw some light showers earlier in the week, Thursday’s clear skies are expected to continue through the weekend. Saturday will likely be fairly dry, less than ideal for fire prevention.
“It’s a really dangerous combination, and then you add alcohol on top of it, and it makes it even worse,” Scarpelli said.
If you’re planning to light fireworks in Vancouver, Scarpelli said, don’t. Chances are good that you’ll be caught and fined. Eight teams of fire code officers will be deployed across the city to enforce the fireworks ban.
But more importantly, she continued, ignoring the ban endangers the rest of the community. It strips resources from other critical emergencies when first responders have to spend the day putting out brush fires caused by fireworks.
“We have to respond. We have to put out that fire,” Scarpelli said. “It really decreases the readiness of our emergency responders to the actual true emergencies of someone that could be coming in.”
She encouraged anyone witnessing illegal fireworks within city limits to call the nonemergency line at 311. In the case of an active fire, or of fireworks being discharged recklessly, call 911 directly.
“Let’s keep our firefighters ready for these true emergencies that come in, especially health emergencies where time is of the essence. I can’t stress that enough,” Scarpelli said.
Where can you light fireworks?
In municipalities outside city limits, fireworks are allowed with certain restrictions.
Camas, Washougal, La Center, Ridgefield, Yacolt and unincorporated Clark County all permit fireworks between 9 a.m. and midnight on July 4. The exception is anything on Vancouver Public Schools property; the district announced Thursday that fireworks are banned on its grounds and parking lots, even those outside city limits.
If you’re unsure whether your would-be fireworks site is within the Vancouver boundary, check the address at www.cityofvancouver.us/ourcity/page/do-you-live-or-work-city-vancouver.