If you’ve been following the fireworks debate in Camas, there is good and bad news for both sides.
Camas city leaders rejected an outright ban on personal fireworks, but have limited their discharge to two days each year instead of the current three days. The Camas City Council voted 5-2 — with council members Greg Anderson and Melissa Smith, an outspoken fireworks opponent, voting no — Monday night to limit the use of personal fireworks to the July Fourth and New Year’s Eve holidays.
The city council also voted, this time unanimously, to beef up the city’s fireworks enforcement and allow police, code enforcement officers and the fire marshal to issue code violations to anyone caught discharging fireworks outside of the allowed time periods.
Effective later this month, just in time for the upcoming Independence Day holiday, violators will face hefty fines: $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second, $750 for the third and $1,000 for each subsequent violation within a three-year period.
The Camas -Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office (FMO) and local law enforcement say they will “aggressively enforce the regulations” and will be on patrol within the city limits of Camas and Washougal this Fourth of July holiday season to enforce city ordinances. Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher cautioned that “using illegal fireworks or discharging fireworks outside of legally permitted dates and times may result in a fine and the possible confiscation of your fireworks.”
The fines and code violations for people discharging fireworks illegally go into effect the week of June 25, but the new “two days only” fireworks ordinance must wait a full year before becoming standard practice in Camas.
This means that the current Camas fireworks ordinance, under which personal fireworks are allowed to be discharged from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., July 3; 9 a.m. to midnight, July 4; and between 6 p.m., Dec. 31 and 1 a.m. Jan. 1, is still in effect until July 2019.
After the year’s wait is over, the new ordinance will limit personal fireworks to the following times and days: 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) through 1 a.m. on Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day).
“I’m comfortable and enthused to support this change,” Camas Mayor Pro Tem Don Chaney said at Monday night’s regular council meeting, in reference to the new system of fireworks enforcement and related fines.
Councilwoman Shannon Turk agreed, saying the councilors were trying to respond to citizen concerns brought up during the months-long debate over limiting fireworks within city limits.
“We heard there was no regular enforcement in certain neighborhoods,” Turk said Monday, adding that the heftier fees would help the city pay for code enforcement officers and police time spent tracking down fireworks violators.
Turk said the council was enacting the new day-time ordinance and fine schedule “in the hopes that we can all have a better fireworks season.”
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, who announced June 11 that he will leave his position in September, said he will miss many things about leading Camas, but the recurring fireworks debate is not one of them.
“When I first started, (we allowed fireworks) for eight days. Then it was seven. Then five days,” Higgins said Monday. “Then it was two days (for the Fourth of July) and one on New Year’s Eve, and now it’s two total.”
The mayor added that the progression toward fewer days for legal fireworks discharge meant, to him, that city leaders are listening to fireworks opponents, who often bring up trauma to pets, wildlife and combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as fire risks as good reasons to ban the explosive devices.
“We are trying to balance an entire community’s needs,” Higgins said. “We know a lot of people feel differently (about this issue). If you’re not a fan of fireworks, your voice is being heard.”
Washougal also beefs up code enforcement for fireworks violators
The Washougal City Council approved an ordinance June 11 that amends the city’s fireworks enforcement code, changing the use of an illegal firework or using fireworks during times other than the allowed hours from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
Schumacher said it will take less time to issue a ticket versus having to write a misdemeanor report and make an arrest.
A person with a misdemeanor would have faced a criminal fine of up to $250 if convicted and possible jail time, according to Washougal Police Commander Allen Cook.
Violators of the recently amended fireworks enforcement ordinance could face $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, $750 for the third offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense within a three-year period.
The revision also allows for the seizure and forfeiture of fireworks.
People can purchase fireworks in Washougal from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., July 2, 3 and 4, and they can discharge fireworks from 9 a.m. to midnight, July 4.
Legal fireworks in Washougal currently include cone fountains, sparklers, ground and aerial spinners, Roman candles and cylindrical fountains.
Schumacher and Camas-Washougal Deputy Fire Marshal Randy Miller have patrolled the area in early July during previous years and will do so again this year, to make sure fireworks laws are being followed.
Reporter Dawn Feldhaus contributed to this article.