Camas asks for input on fireworks

Fire officials could impose fireworks ban over Fourth of July holiday if drought conditions persist

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Fireworks erupt during the Port of Camas-Washougal Fourth of July Concert and Celebration on July 4, 2016. (Post-Record file photo)

If there is one issue sure to cause division in the city of Camas, it is fireworks.

The Camas City Council has held several meetings focused on the city’s fireworks policy over the past few years. And, without fail, the crowd always seems split down the middle.

On one side are the people who love shooting off or watching fireworks during neighborhood celebrations on the Fourth of July and other holidays.

On the other side are those who say a neighborhood fireworks display is not worth the risk of injuring someone, starting a fire or causing stress to local wildlife and pets — as well as war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Now, Camas officials want to hear from everyone who cares one way or another about the city’s fireworks policy. The city will soon place a fireworks survey on its Engage Camas website, and officials will likely discuss the issue at the city council’s upcoming town hall, set to take place online, via Zoom, at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 14.

City leaders also have discussed placing a question on the November general election ballot to let voters decide if Camas should allow fireworks on holidays like the Fourth of July, ban them altogether or come up with another solution.

In May, the city council discussed the issue with the city’s fire chief, Nick Swinhart, and fire marshal, Ron Schumacher.

“Every Fourth of July we get comments from people concerned about fireworks,” Swinhart told the council at the May 17 council workshop. “We do have people who support the city’s ability to set off fireworks, but there are concerns about injuries from fireworks.”

Some council members, including Greg Anderson and Steve Hogan, said they were disappointed the council hadn’t discussed the issue earlier.

“Last fall, we had asked to have this conversation so we could gather public outreach well before the 2021 season,” Anderson said in May. “It’s too late to affect the 2022 season because this got kicked too far down (the road).”

Hogan agreed, saying: “We needed to have a conversation regarding fireworks months ago if we were going to get legislation done this year.”

Hogan added that the city does have “laws on the books” to override the rules around fireworks if the weather conditions warrant a temporary fireworks ban.

“It is possible to shut down fireworks to keep the community safe,” Hogan said. “I would like the public to understand when that would kick in.”

Swinhart explained that the council had approved a change to the city’s fireworks ordinance that allowed him, in consultation with the fire marshal, to “ban fireworks in extreme situations,” including times of high fire danger.

Schumacher said in May that there were three factors that would go into making a decision to ban fireworks due to the weather: relative humidity, temperature and wind conditions.

“I’ve talked to other fire marshals and there’s really no definitive plan (for calling for a fireworks ban if weather conditions warrant one),” Schumacher said in May. “We would like to do something countywide. I think that would be easier.”

Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton said in May — and again this week — that the area is in a drought.

“I have never worn tank tops and sandals in May in the Pacific Northwest since I was a teen, so by the time July Fourth rolls around, this could be tinder-dry,” Burton said at the May 17 workshop.

On Monday, she said she had spoken to Schumacher about the drought conditions in the area — pointing out that Camas typically has 13 inches of rain in March, April and May, but has only had 2.5 inches of rain over that time period this year.

“There is no water,” Burton said. “That is very concerning to all the fire departments in the county. And the big factor is humidity. It is very humid, which is another (fire-risk) driver. Third is the wind. Camas is known for its winds, and wind drives fire.”

Burton said city leaders and fire officials are “doing the rain dance” and will examine the weather conditions in a couple weeks and make a decision regarding a possible fireworks ban “seven to 10 days” before the July Fourth holiday.

“We want to make sure the entire community knows the entire council and city staff take this very, very seriously,” Burton said Monday.