Politics & Government

Puyallup, Bonney Lake to explore fireworks bans

Victor Nelson, of Bonney Lake, left, and Tanner Rogers of Milton unload and display fireworks at a Hale fireworks stand in Puyallup in June 2011.
Victor Nelson, of Bonney Lake, left, and Tanner Rogers of Milton unload and display fireworks at a Hale fireworks stand in Puyallup in June 2011. Staff file, 2011

After a dangerously dry Fourth of July and amid drought conditions that might stretch past Labor Day, leaders in East Pierce County’s two largest cities want to talk about restricting and perhaps outlawing holiday fireworks.

The Bonney Lake City Council has started the conversation, and the Puyallup City Council will pick it up this week.

If it were to adopt a ban, Puyallup would be the second-largest city in Pierce County where fireworks are illegal. Tacoma prohibits them, as do Fircrest, Ruston and Steilacoom.

Puyallup City Councilman Steve Vermillion has personal reasons why he doesn’t like the bangs and booms of Independence Day.

“It freaks my dog out,” he said. “Every Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve I get to spend with a paranoid dog.”

More importantly, Vermillion said, he has public safety concerns that can’t be ignored as easily as the noise complaints that blow up and fizzle out every year as surely as July rolls toward August.

“We’ve had a lot of complaints, that’s not unusual, but the issue for me is the climactic conditions,” he said. “The danger level in our community is exceptionally high.”

This year’s hot and dry weather conspired to make a busy July 4 holiday for emergency responders in around Puyallup.

Crews responded to a major house fire in the 1700 block of West Pioneer Avenue, another house fire in the Crystal Ridge neighborhood and a brush fire that burned on two acres near Emerald Ridge High School.

“We are really struggling to keep up with the amount of small brush fires that are starting up from fireworks,” Central Pierce Fire & Rescue spokesman Ed Hrivnak said at the time. “Our engines are running from call to call.”

Fire calls were heavy as well in Bonney Lake over the holiday weekend.

Leaders in the plateau city recently discussed fireworks problems and tentatively scheduled a Sept. 29 community discussion at which residents can say whether they support a total ban or more moderate steps.

Puyallup officials plan to talk about fireworks regulations at their council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 18).

A staff memo notes that talk of total fireworks bans brings out “impassioned supporters and opponents.” Enforcing regulations is challenging, and the memo points out that “Puyallup faces unusual circumstances with nearby sales occurring on tribal reservations.”

No matter what elected leaders in both cities decide, residents would see changes on the Fourth of July no sooner than 2017.

State law requires a full year to pass before new fireworks ordinances go into effect. That way, residents and fireworks vendors have time to prepare.

Vermillion said that wait time is unacceptable. He thinks the state should give local governments the latitude to determine their own rules from year to year.

Puyallup should be allowed to make a “command decision” to prohibit July 4 fireworks if it assesses hazardous fire conditions during the spring, he said.

Under current law, even the governor lacks that discretion.

Facing calls for a statewide ban last month, Gov. Jay Inslee consulted his legal team and determined his authority to declare drought and wildfire emergencies doesn’t extend to prohibiting citizens from lighting legal fireworks on private land.

State law allows the public to set off fireworks during varying hours from June 28 to July 5, and for New Year’s revelers during more limited hours on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

It allows local governments to adopt stricter rules, as long as they follow the one-year implementation period.

Puyallup tightened its rules in 2002, limiting fireworks use to between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on July 4.

It is one of a handful of cities, including neighboring Sumner and Orting, that allow fireworks to be discharged only on Independence Day and not on other days of the holiday week.

Bonney Lake allows fireworks on July 3, 4 and 5.

Hrivnak said Monday that Central Pierce Fire & Rescue had 78 fire calls and four structure fires around the district on July 4, which he called “way more” than a normal summer day.

As a fire prevention chief, he said a total fireworks ban makes good sense, especially as climate forecasts call for dry summers to continue.

At the very least, he’d like to see cities prohibit fireworks use in the middle of the afternoon when conditions are at their worst.

“What’s it going to take?” Hrivnak asked. “Will it take 12 houses to burn down from fireworks, or an entire city block to be taken out?”

Matt Misterek: 253-597-8472