Officials urge caution with fireworks amid increased fire danger

FireworksHC1107_S_72_C_RBy Steve Guntli

With Whatcom County in the grips of a heat wave, state and county officials are urging extreme caution when using fireworks.

Due to the high risk of fires statewide, Governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in Washington. The governor’s office and the fire marshal are encouraging people to not use fireworks purchased privately and only attend public fireworks displays.

Washington state law allows fireworks to be discharged from June 28 to July 5, but many jurisdictions in the county are cutting back on those days to prevent wildfires.

On June 23, Whatcom County Council unanimously approved a measure to reduce the days in which fireworks can be discharged. The new regulations, which go into effect next year, would make the county the fourth local jurisdiction to limit the use of fireworks beyond what the state allows. Blaine limits fireworks use to July 1-5, to take July 1, Canada Day, into account. Bellingham has had an in-city ban on fireworks in place since last year and Ferndale will reduce the allowable days to July 4 and December 31 starting in 2016.

According to the county fire marshal’s office, fireworks lead to an average of four to six brush fires every year. This Fourth of July weekend is predicted to be particularly hot and dry, with high temperatures around the county expected to rise into the high 80s, according to the National Weather Service.

On June 29, the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office increased the countywide burn ban to stage 2, prohibiting all open fires, including yard debris fires, land clearing and recreational fires. Barbeques are still allowed under the burn ban, but extreme caution is requested for disposing any charcoal or ashes.

The current fireworks regulations in unincorporated Whatcom County are in line with the state mandate. Firework use in Point Roberts and the rest of the unincorporated county is limited to the following times:

June 28: noon to 11 p.m.

June 29- July 3: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

July 4: 9 a.m. to midnight

July 5: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Fireworks purchased from stands in unincorporated county have been inspected by the fire marshal and pass state requirements. However, some fireworks purchased on native reservations are only legal to fire on native land. Firecrackers, bottle rockets, mortar shells and any type of missile or firework with sticks or fins are prohibited off of reservations. Some explosive devices, such as M-80s, M-100s, tennis ball bombs and pipe bombs are illegal everywhere.

Sky lanterns, though not considered fireworks, are illegal to light and release. Sky lanterns contain an open flame and their paths are not controllable. Releasing sky lanterns could result in a criminal charge for violation of the state and county fire codes, according to the fire marshal’s office.

Possession of illegal fireworks is considered a criminal offense, and anyone who starts a fire from either legal or illegal fireworks will be held responsible.

For more information, visit co.whatcom/wa/us/381/Fire-Marshal.

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