Fireworks debate heats up in Camas

Dozens call for city to ban, severely restrict personal use

City of Camas leaders have reopened an ongoing debate about the use of personal fireworks within city limits. At a public hearing held last week, Camas city councilors and Mayor Scott Higgins heard testimony from concerned residents, and said they were considering four options, including an outright ban on all personal fireworks.

Dozens of people showed up for the May 14 hearing, and more than 70 others submitted written comments. A majority of the written comments favored strict limitations or an outright ban on fireworks, while speakers seemed split, with many calling for a ban and others urging no changes to Camas’ fireworks ordinance. The city currently allows personal fireworks to be used on two days during the July Fourth holiday and on New Year’s Eve.

The city council did not make any decisions at the hearing. Mayor Higgins said councilors would take the citizens’ thoughts into consideration and likely discuss the issue at a future work session.

City leaders could go one of four ways regarding fireworks. They could opt to keep things the way they stand now, with personal fireworks 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.

Or, council members may decide to allow the discharge of personal fireworks only on the July Fourth and New Year’s Eve holidays.

A third option calls for the city to pass a “safe and sane” fireworks ordinance, banning the sale, purchase, possession or use of any fireworks that fly, explode or travel more than 1 foot into the air or 6 feet on the ground.

A fourth option would ban the sale, purchase, possession and use of all personal fireworks within Camas.

Several citizens who spoke at the public hearing said they had no idea when they moved into their Camas neighborhoods that the fireworks would be such a problem.

“I couldn’t believe how bad it was,” Dean Osterman said.

The Leadbetter Parkway area resident told city councilors he favors an outright ban over the other options.

“We used to leave … now, I use a hose to put out fires,” Osterman said. “I’ve never heard anything like it. Dishes shake inside the house … The pets will shake and cry and this happens on our block for several nights.”

Of the 10 original comments submitted to city leaders before the city published its packet of information about the May 14 hearing, all favored severe restrictions or a ban on personal fireworks within city limits.

Heather DeVore, a 14-year Camas resident, told city leaders the fireworks seem to get worse each year, with many people not obeying the city’s current fireworks ordinance.

“The fireworks go on for days and on (July 4) late into the night,” DeVore stated in her written comment. “My neighborhood feels like a war zone.”

Several writers who favored a fireworks ban pointed to the fact that Camas firefighters have been telling city leaders their department is understaffed.

“With a skeleton crew in (the Camas-Washougal Fire Department), it isn’t worth risking fires by allowing individual use of fireworks,” stated Camas resident Ophelia Glasser in her written comment. “I think they should be completely banned in Camas.”

Those who spoke and wrote in favor of allowing personal fireworks said their festivities are not dangerous but, rather, a way for neighbors and families with young children to bond and celebrate Independence Day.

Camas resident Robert Huckvale wrote to city leaders to say he wanted the city to keep the ordinance it has currently.

“Those who are responsible and safe, including thoroughly cleaning up afterwards, should not be penalized for those who violate the laws and don’t use common sense,” he stated.

Others, however, felt that people’s desire to put on their own personal fireworks shows — instead of going to a public display — shouldn’t overshadow the potential harm.

“I don’t think Camas should continue to accommodate people (who want to use fireworks) at the expense of significant harm and stress to those in the community,” stated Camas resident Nate Jackson in his letter to city leaders.

Jackson said he and his wife worry about their historic home, (the MacMaster home on Northeast Adams Street, built in 1906) because its balloon frame construction and original wood shiplap siding attached directly to the frame without sheathing in between make it more vulnerable to fire if an errant firework should make contact.

“If a firework hit the side of our house, there is a distinct possibility that embers could enter into the wall structure and could spread between the floors faster than our ability to exit the house safely,” Jackson stated in his letter, adding that a few fireworks did hit his house last year on the July 4 holiday. “I saw a few hit our roof and siding, which left marks on the house, and a couple went into our yard, which started the lawn on fire in a couple of places.”

Jackson said he favors the fireworks ban.

“Please ban fireworks in Camas,” Jackson told the city leaders. “We can still celebrate (July 4) with fireworks with an official, local, professional display for the community, and strictly enforce the ban so we can leave our homes to enjoy it.”

Most fireworks opponents mentioned fire hazards, traumatized pets, frightened wildlife and combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder in their speeches and written statements.

Several said that, not only did they not enjoy the fireworks in their neighborhood, but that they also had to clean up after the people setting the fireworks off each year.

“I think it is time to end fireworks in Camas,” wrote Camas resident Nancy Sturges. “We do not set them off at our house, however, the amount of debris over our yard and roof each year is incredible. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

People who support the continuation of legal fireworks days said they try to be respectful of their neighbors, and clean up after their traditional celebrations.

“These stories break my heart,” Rocky Fresh, a Sixth Avenue resident told Camas leaders at the public hearing. “It sucks to live next to jerks. We live on Sixth … and we set off fireworks. It’s a part of our (country’s) history … yes, fireworks are dangerous, but that’s not a reason to outlaw anything. The most dangerous thing we do every day is get in cars, but no one is banning cars.”

Fresh urged city councilors to keep the code the way it stands now.

“We can catastrophize things,” Fresh said. “Yes, there could be a fire, but trampolines and bikes are more dangerous … and a lot of animals are scared of fireworks, but a lot of people are scared of animals and we’re not asking people to get rid of their pets.”

One Camas resident who worked as an United States Marine Corps aviation ordnance technician said they thought the current fireworks code in Camas is “reasonable and fair.”

“These bans don’t work,” Terry DeHart, the former Marine, stated in a letter to Camas leaders. “I was raised in (Southeast) Portland and the ban was clearly ineffectual. A ban on legal use of fireworks can lead to increased use of illegal, unregulated fireworks … (and) the noise of these pyrotechnic devices sound nothing at all like a ‘war zone.’ I believe that the people who are inconvenienced by the noise should instead think about the ‘inconvenience’ experienced by our military men and women in harm’s way.”

This is not the first time city leaders have considered banning or restricting the use of personal fireworks within the city of Camas. The city council heard lengthy testimony from opponents and proponents in 2015, and have heard from citizens on both sides since the city’s current code went into effect in 2017. Any decision to further restrict or ban fireworks in Camas wouldn’t be implemented until at least 2019, as state law requires a 12-month waiting period for new fireworks ordinances.