County mar­shal can ban fire­works

The fire mar­shal will have the au­thor­ity to pro­hibit fire­works dur­ing ex­treme drought con­di­tions start­ing next year.

The Daily Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Haglund Her­ald Writer

EVERETT — Sno­homish County’s fire mar­shal is due to gain emer­gency pow­ers to ban fire­works dur­ing pe­ri­ods of ex­treme drought start­ing a year or two from now, but that could be­come moot de­pend­ing on how vot­ers re­spond to an ad­vi­sory fire­works vote pro­posed for the Novem­ber bal­lot.

The County Coun­cil voted 4-1 Wed­nes­day to give the fire mar­shal the new au­thor­ity dur­ing pe­ri­ods of “ex­treme fire dan­ger.” More sparks could fly this fall. Coun­cil Chair­man Terry Ryan wants vot­ers to weigh in on ban­ning fire­works in the county’s un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas.

“I think it’s time to have a dis­cus­sion,” Ryan said.

For years, the County Coun­cil has found it­self caught be­tween war­ring fire­works fac­tions.

On one side, there are many fire of­fi­cials who fa­vor ban­ning fire­works al­to­gether. They’re al­lied with home­own­ers who com­plain about noise, fright­ened pets and the dan­ger of neigh­bors ac­ci­dently burn­ing down houses dur­ing July 4 cel­e­bra­tions.

On the other side are peo­ple who op­er­ate fire­works stands, of­ten for char­ity, and their pa­trons, who talk about tra­di­tional Fourth of July fun with friends and fam­ily.

Both sides came out Wed­nes­day, when the County Coun­cil con­vened a hear­ing on the fire­mar­shal ques­tion.

“We would like a full ban, but we feel this is a very pos­i­tive step,” said Shaughn Maxwell, deputy chief of Sno­homish County Fire District 1.

Robert Vo­gel spoke to the coun­cil about the lack of lawen­force­ment re­sponse to il­le­gal fire­works in the Storm Lake area near Sno­homish, where he’s lived for 29 years. He didn’t un­der­stand how the fire mar­shal could get sher­iff ’s deputies to en­force the re­stric­tion. He said he feels like peo­ple come out to his neigh­bor­hood this time of year to “blow up the world.”

“In­de­pen­dence Day on the Fourth is not my in­de­pen­dence,” Vo­gel said. “It is the day when

I lose my in­de­pen­dence be­cause of the bombs and shells and what­not that’s go­ing on.”

Op­po­nents of the fire mar­shal or­di­nance were quick to point out its short­com­ings: The law doesn’t de­fine what “ex­treme fire dan­ger” means. It would do lit­tle to pre­vent peo­ple from buy­ing fire­works at Boom City in Tu­lalip or on other In­dian reser­va­tions and shoot­ing them off else­where in Sno­homish County. County fire­works en­force­ment is light to nonex­is­tent as is. And many of the fire­works that gen­er­ate com­plaints, such as bot­tle rock­ets and M-80s, al­ready are banned by the state.

Katie Westall, an ac­count spe­cial­ist with im­porter Thun­der Fire­works of Ta­coma, ques­tioned why the leg­is­la­tion passed Wed­nes­day was so vague. It would shut down le­gal re­tail­ers, like her clients, and push more con­sumers to­ward il­le­gal fire­works, she said.

“As it is cur­rently writ­ten, fire­works could be banned at any time on the whim and on the opinion of the fire mar­shal,” Westall said. “Def­i­ni­tion of ex­treme fire dan­ger based on sci­ence and statis­tics must be added to this or­di­nance. Time con­straints also need to be added to the pro­posed or­di­nance and reeval­u­a­tion of ex­treme fire dan­ger should be re­quired.”

Coun­cil­woman Stephanie Wright, who pro­posed the leg­is­la­tion, ad­mit­ted that it’s im­per­fect. Wright called it a use­ful tool dur­ing pe­ri­ods of ex­treme drought, such as the dry weather that af­fected the re­gion dur­ing the sum­mer of 2015.

“We were caught last year with­out any au­thor­ity to do any­thing about fire­works,” she said.

Coun­cil­man Ken Klein cast the only vote against the leg­is­la­tion.

“It doesn’t ac­com­plish its de­sired goal and I will not be sup­port­ing it,” Klein said.

The fire mar­shal’s new pow­ers would take ef­fect in 2017 or 2018, de­pend­ing on when Ex­ec­u­tive Dave Somers signs the leg­is­la­tion. The lag owes to a state law that de­lays lo­cal fire­works re­stric­tions un­til the fol­low­ing year.

Coun­cil mem­bers said they’re likely to amend the ver­sion they passed Wed­nes­day.

Sep­a­rately, Ryan, the coun­cil chair­man, ex­pects to start talks next month about an ad­vi­sory vote on ban­ning fire­works in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas, where more than a quar­ter of Sno­homish County’s ap­prox­i­mately 760,000 peo­ple live. The coun­cil would have to sub­mit the pro­posed mea­sure to the county au­di­tor by early Au­gust to place it on the bal­lot in Novem­ber.

Coun­cil­man Hans Dun­shee is ex­plor­ing neigh­bor­hood-spe­cific fire­works bans. Dun­shee said the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would be mod­eled af­ter the county’s no-shoot­ing ar­eas and would re­quire a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in a given area to sign a pe­ti­tion sup­port­ing the ban. A dis­cus­sion is planned dur­ing the coun­cil’s Op­er­a­tions Com­mit­tee meet­ing at 9 a.m. July 12.

Fire­works al­ready are pro­hib­ited in the ci­ties of Ed­monds, Everett, Gold Bar, Lyn­nwood, Mill Creek, Mount­lake Ter­race, Muk­il­teo and Wood­way. New bans are set to take ef­fect in 2017 for Marysville and Brier, where a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers came out in fa­vor of the re­stric­tion dur­ing ad­vi­sory votes last fall.

Fire­works stands in Wash­ing­ton opened Tues­day and can stay open un­til July 5.

County code al­lows peo­ple to set off fire­works in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas only on July 4 be­tween 9 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.

Noah Haglund: 425339-3465; nhaglund@ her­ald­ Twit­ter: @NWhaglund.

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