‘Quietest Fourth in 15 years’

Fire marshal says most C-W residents followed rules; Camas residents sound off on future of fireworks in that city

Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher called the recent Fourth of July weekend the quietest he’s seen in 15 years.

“We had a small — very small — grass fire in Camas, but other than that there were no injuries, no fires,” Schumacher said, adding fire officials also had few calls for illegal discharging of fireworks.

“We just appreciate what citizens did in both communities,” Schumacher added.

The quiet holiday came on the heels of a last-minute ban on the sale and discharge of fireworks in Camas and Washougal due to weather conditions — including a record-setting heat wave that sent temperatures soaring into triple digits during the last week of June — that increased the area’s fire risk.

During a normal year, Schumacher said local fire crews might respond to four or five fireworks-related calls in Camas, where city officials still allow large, aerial mortar-type fireworks on July 4 and News Year’s Eve, and field calls for the illegal discharging of fireworks in Washougal, where city leaders enacted a “safe and sane” fireworks policy a few years ago, banning everything but the most tame fireworks.

Washougal residents are starting to catch on to that city’s fireworks policy, Schumacher said, but it wasn’t an automatic adherence to the “safe and sane” rules.

“We’ve seen a decrease (in the use of loud, aerial fireworks) in Washougal,” the fire marshal said. “It’s gradually coming down, weaning itself, but it’s taking a few years.”

Camas officials plan to discuss their fireworks policy soon, and may send the issue to the ballot for local voters to decide. On the city of Camas’ Engage Camas website, dozens of residents have weighed in on the city’s online fireworks discussion. As of July 6, there were 199 comments posted to the site related to fireworks.

Much like the city’s public meetings on the topic, which tend to draw a 50-50 crowd with half in favor of keeping fireworks legal on certain days and half opposed entirely to fireworks in Camas, the online discussion includes a mix of fireworks proponents and opponents, as well as those who believe the city might be able to find a middle ground.

“The magic of fireworks seems to be lost with age,” one commenter identified only as Matthew wrote in late June. “I humbly request that we can come together and compromise in a way that will be safe and preserve the wonder for children in Camas. First, since I wish to keep traditional fireworks, I’d like to have aerial fireworks limited to 11 p.m. in neighborhoods (with) ‘safe and sane’ until midnight.”

Matthew also suggested the city have a spot where older children and adults could go to discharge aerial fireworks from 11 p.m. to midnight and a location where people could safely place their spent fireworks.

Others had similar ideas for compromise: “How about ‘safe and sane’ on the (Fourth of July) and save the aerial rockets for New Year’s when it’s not hot and dry?” said a commenter identified as Two Cents Worth. “The aerials were great when we had cool, rainy weather the entire month of June. Now, they are a hazard.”

As for those who favored keeping the aerial fireworks in Camas, many cited the fact that the city has already limited fireworks to just two days a year.

“I don’t find it necessary to ‘ban’ or ‘limit’ the usage of fireworks, especially considering they are only allowed for two days out of the year,” one commenter wrote. “I think it is a fun traditional with minimal harm. Maybe the city council would just consider heightened on-duty officers, firefighters, medics for the two days a year. I wouldn’t mind additional tax dollars paid for that.”

Others pointed out that some in Camas already do not abide by the city’s rules when it comes to fireworks.

“I think it’s a mistake to say ‘keep it to the one day like it is now,'” a commenter identified as Kris wrote in mid-June. “We all know that fireworks begin going off on whatever day any firework stand opens anywhere near Clark County. The issues are enforcement and safety. I think we should minimally only have safe and sane fireworks, and ideally I would vote for no fireworks at all. Coming to this decision is painful for me, I grew up here in Camas and loved our family firework show. But we were responsible and safe about it. Sadly, my community has proven every year that they do not make safe firework decisions, nor do they make firework decisions that take the considerations of others into account.”

Many commenters pointed out the fact that the fireworks can be traumatic for wildlife, pets, veterans and other neighbors.

“For safety reasons, for those with (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other mental health struggles, and for less damage to property, I hope we will just focus on other ways to celebrate,” Kris stated.

Others agreed.

“Please, please ban fireworks in Camas” one commenter wrote. “The Dorothy Fox area is a war zone on (July 4) and, to a lesser degree, on (July 2-3 and July 5). … Fireworks are a horrifying experience for people suffering with PTSD; horrifying for our pets that we must sedate for two to three days (because) people blatantly ignore the rules; (and) horrifying for the local wildlife. … Please ban all fireworks. We’ve been through more than enough the past year and a half. We need a rest. The (Fourth) can still be celebrated with family, friends, BBQs, etc.”

Another commenter added: “Eliminate the use of fireworks in residential neighborhoods. Twice a year, pet owners have to deal with traumatized pets. For a community that cares so much about our pets, they sure don’t during the Fourth and New Year’s Eve.”

A few of those who supported keeping the city’s current fireworks policy in place said they, too, had pets that were negatively impacted by the noise.

“I and my entire cul-de-sac are 100 percent excited for all the fireworks,” one commenter noted. “I also have dogs. They don’t like fireworks one bit. I have a prescription filled in May every year for them to take on the Fourth. Works wonders. They sleep through it all, and we all get to celebrate and have some fun.”

Some pointed out that the city rarely enforces its own fireworks policy.

“Without enforcement, the regulations mean nothing,” noted one commenter. “That is why I believe (fireworks), other than ‘safe and sane’ and professional fireworks displays, should be banned from Camas,” one commenter stated. “Enforce as much as possible and, over time, we’ll have safer, quieter neighborhoods.”

Though fireworks were banned throughout the Portland-Vancouver metro region and in much of Southwest Washington this year due to the extreme heat and increased fire risks, fireworks are being blamed for a fire that burned the former Cherry Grove Church in Battle Ground and could have contributed to a deadly fire in Southeast Portland that killed two people, injured several others and completely destroyed an apartment complex.

Camas residents have until July 23 to weigh in on the local fireworks discussion at the Engage Camas site (engagecamas.com/camas-fireworks-discussion). As of Tuesday, July 6, 262 people had taken an online poll asking if Camas should not allow any fireworks, move to “safe and sane” fireworks or stay as is, with aerial fireworks allowed on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. Currently, 40 percent of respondents believe the city should not change its fireworks policy, while 60 percent say ban fireworks completely (33 percent) or switch to a “safe and sane” policy (27 percent) and get rid of the aerial fireworks.