City leaders reignite fireworks debate, may impose ban

Washougal will host public hearing, Camas may survey residents

In the days following the disclosure that the massive Eagle Creek fire burning more than 35,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge may have been sparked by a Vancouver teen’s inexplicable throwing of fireworks off a trail during one of the hottest, driest days of the summer, Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said his staff received a number of phone calls and email messages from citizens concerned about the city’s stance on fireworks.

“We’ve had a number of comments about Camas having a fireworks ban,” Capell told Camas City Council members on Sept. 5, just one day after embers from the Eagle Creek fire flew across the Columbia River, igniting a now more than 200-acre wildfire in nearby Skamania County on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said city staff and councilors received letters and comments about fireworks after the July Fourth holiday and that he had suggested to other city leaders, before the Gorge fires, that Camas consider moving its community survey schedule up to ask residents how they felt about an outright fireworks ban or, possibly, much like Portland, a ban on just the “aerial” fireworks that didn’t affect ground-level firecrackers.

Most Camas City Council members seemed to want to wait and see how much a partial community survey, which would come much sooner than the city’s regularly scheduled 2019 survey, would cost. Capell said he would find out and get back to the councilors and mayor at the city’s next work session on Monday, Sept. 18.

Washougal to hold public hearing on potential fireworks ban

The Washougal City Council will hold a public hearing to get input from Washougal citizens regarding their opinions about potentially regulating the use of personal fireworks, including a possible ban.

The hearing is not yet scheduled, but the issue was brought up during the Council’s Sept. 11 workshop.

During public comments, Cindy Riedel, a retired trauma nurse who lives in Washougal, said she is concerned about the use of personal fireworks. She has previously mentioned seeing children’s fingers and eyes injured by the type of fireworks now legal on certain days in Washougal.

Councilman Brent Boger said he shares the concerns about fireworks, and he wants the fireworks issue to be addressed sooner rather than later, in light of the recent ongoing fires in the Gorge.

“I am skeptical that it adds to the community, and we ought to consider further restrictions,” he said.

Councilman Paul Greenlee also referred to the fires in the Gorge.

“The fireworks-started fires give you reason to think about almost anything that you could do to decrease the availability of those kinds of fireworks,” he said. “(It) makes sense in a way that it did not before, maybe.”

Councilman Ray Kutch said he would be in favor of banning the use of personal fireworks.

Councilman Dan Coursey said he did not favor a ban on personal fireworks before, but said the “block parties get larger every year,” adding that many of the people who park in his neighborhood on July 4 come from Oregon.

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said she would want public input prior to a ban.

In Washougal, the discharge of fireworks is allowed from 9 a.m. to midnight, July 4, and from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Dec. 31.

The discharge of fireworks in Camas is limited to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., July 3, and 9 a.m. to midnight, July 4, as well as from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Dec. 31.

Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay said the Aug. 21 Washougal Public Safety Committee meeting included discussions regarding more aggressive enforcement and an increase in fines.

Lindsay said the streets are “trashed” after July 4.

“The event at the (Port of Camas-Washougal) is wonderful,” she added.

The Port hosts Independence Day festivities at Washougal Waterfront Park. They include fireworks purchased with city of Washougal lodging tax funds.

Washington state law requires firework restrictions be made at least 365 days before they are effective