Concern mounts over fireworks, dry conditions ahead of 4th of July weekend

Jun 30, 2021, 7:57 AM | Updated: Jul 1, 2021, 10:02 am
(Matt Pitman)
(Matt Pitman)

With concerns building over dry, hot conditions and the increased prevalence of fireworks on Fourth of July weekend, should the state consider taking stringent measures to mitigate against that danger? University of Washington climatologist Cliff Mass believes so.

Western Washington enters dangerous wildfire territory

“Personal fireworks are a major cause of fires in our region,” Mass said in a recent blog post.

He points to “several significant regional fireworks caused by irresponsibly used fireworks” in recent years. That includes the now-infamous 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, where nearly 80 square miles burned on either side of the Columbia Gorge over three months, decimating local vegetation, threatening homes, and affecting air quality across Western Washington.

Further data cited by Mass shows that more fires are sparked annually on July 4 than any other date in Washington. In 2020 alone, fires sparked by fireworks spanning the whole year cost the state over $1.3 million in damages across 360 total incidents, injuring 237 people.

To mitigate against this, he proposes that Gov. Inslee swiftly enact a statewide ban on all fireworks.

“We could profoundly reduce the wildfire risk by taking some prudent steps immediately, but that will require state leaders to act with more energy and purpose than in the past,” Mass noted. “… Governor Inslee needs to deal with the wildfire threat immediately by establishing a fireworks ban.”

Legal for now

The sale of consumer fireworks in select parts of the state began on Monday, extending through 11 p.m. on July 5. State law permits the use of legally purchased fireworks through that end date as well, although many cities and counties have their own restrictions in place. That includes cities like Seattle, where fireworks are strictly prohibited.

Outside of cities, the rules are typically more permissive in counties with unincorporated areas that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of municipal governments. In King County, residents of unincorporated neighborhoods can discharge fireworks on July 4 from 9 a.m. to midnight, although a full ban approved in April will take effect starting in 2022.

Legally purchased fireworks are similarly permitted in unincorporated parts of Pierce County between July 1 and July 5, spanning 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the first three days, 10 a.m. to midnight on July 4, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the final day.

A ban on fireworks in unincorporated parts of southwest Snohomish County took effect this year, although they are still permitted in the north and northeast parts of the county. You can see a full map of where fireworks are and aren’t permitted in the area here.

Citing concerns over dry weather, both Clark and Thurston counties have banned the use of consumer fireworks in their own unincorporated areas through July 4 and July 5, respectively.

This comes in the wake of record heat across Washington, which culminated in a 31-square-mile wildfire in Adams County, as well as a separate fire in Kittitas County that ripped through one home and several outbuildings.

Eastern Washington in first-of-its-kind drought advisory

State law says local fireworks restrictions that are more strict than the state’s existing rules can only take effect after a one-year waiting period following their passage. Exceptions can be made in the event of temporary emergency bans related to the high risk of wildfires.

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Concern mounts over fireworks, dry conditions ahead of 4th of July weekend