Jefferson County considers banning fireworks

Action would take place during high fire hazard conditions

PORT TOWNSEND — Fireworks would be banned in Jefferson County if the fire danger reaches a high hazard level, according to a draft ordinance before county commissioners.

The three-member board conducted a public hearing Monday and will continue deliberations March 7.

The period for written testimony was extended through noon this Friday, March 4. Testimony can be emailed to jeffbocc@co.jefferson.wa.us.

If the ordinance is approved, it would go into effect one year after the date of approval under state law, but no sooner than 2023.

Consumer fireworks already are banned in Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks, but they are allowed in unincorporated areas of Jefferson and Clallam counties, in accordance with state regulations.

Local fire officials would implement a ban, if warranted, during a high fire hazard rating, a provision established by the National Fire Danger Rating System.

The high fire hazard rating is defined as a “period of hot, dry weather accompanied by low field moistures, where fires start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely and are difficult to control unless they are successfully attacked when the fires are small,” according to the draft proposal.

“It is during this period that wildland fires can be expected, and fire growth will be accelerated,” the draft ordinance says.

Some concerns during the public comment period Monday included consumers potentially buying fireworks when they first become available June 28, but not being able to use them after a high fire hazard is declared.

“We look at the whole picture,” said Bret Black, the fire chief for East Jefferson Fire Rescue. “We tend to know five to seven days ahead of time what the models are going to do and the fire conditions are going to be.

“We intend to give as much notice as possible.”

The discussion, which included a workshop Feb. 7, was prompted by wildfires elsewhere in the state and nation in 2021.

Last summer, the board tasked county staff to work with local fire chiefs to develop a new fireworks ordinance.

It would ban the use of sky lanterns within unincorporated Jefferson County and place limits on the days and times during which consumer fireworks could be sold.

It would also require permits for public displays, establish a permit fee of $100 per year and make any failure to clean up waste illegal.

Enforcement could include misdemeanor charges with up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, according to the draft ordinance. A civil infraction would be up to a $1,000 fine for the first infraction and $2,000 for any subsequent violation. Each day would be a separate infraction, the draft ordinance says.

“Is this something we’re going to announce on July 3? Probably not,” Commissioner Kate Dean said. “By late June, we know what the weather conditions have been like, and we have a pretty good forecast.”

County commissioners also may appoint a fire marshal as part of the process. The county does not currently have a fire marshal, but uses an interlocal agreement with East Jefferson Fire Rescue to perform such duties.

One option considered Monday would be to have the Department of Community Development handle fire marshal responsibilities.

“I’m concerned about putting each one of the fire chiefs in a more political role,” Commissioner Greg Brotherton said.

As of Friday, the county had received three written public comments, all in favor of the ban.

Grant and Linda Hansen wrote to commissioners in support, saying they live above lower Oak Bay Park in Port Hadlock.

“The park is inundated with people from Port Townsend during Fourth of July, setting off fireworks even though there is a ‘No Fireworks Allowed’ sign posted,” they wrote via email. “The bad part is the mess that is left behind.”

Will Mapel of Port Ludlow also wrote in support of the ban. He said he lived in Portland in 2017 when a 15-year-old boy started the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge by igniting fireworks during a burn ban.

The fire burned for three months and consumed 50,000 acres before it was contained, according to news reports.

“Many lost their houses, large forested areas were destroyed, resulting erosion destroyed even more areas, and we all lived with unhealthy levels of smoke for weeks,” Mapel wrote.

A judge ordered the boy in 2018 to pay more than $36 million in restitution, according to The Washington Post.

“Individuals can never be fully held to account for the damage they cause in these situations, so a ban is fully warranted when the risk is high,” Mapel wrote.

Cathy Nickum of Port Townsend, also in support of a ban, said residents can express their patriotism in other ways.

“To me, setting off fireworks is a ‘freedom’ much like carrying guns, etc.,” she wrote. “It must be weighed against the harmful effects it creates. We have outgrown the need to use fire as a way to celebrate our country’s history.

“It’s time to move on and learn new ways to acknowledge the holiday.”

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