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Fire officials warn Oregon and Washington partiers to be extra careful with fireworks

Fourth of July fireworks, Portland, Oregon, in 2017.
Bradley W. Parks
Fourth of July fireworks, Portland, Oregon, in 2017.

Firework-related injuries and deaths spiked during the pandemic. So authorities in the Pacific Northwest are asking people to be more careful this Fourth of July.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found a 50 percent increase in deaths and injuries from fireworks during the pandemic. The injuries came as many municipalities canceled July 4th public displays, prompting some people to celebrate at home, where fireworks can be more dangerous.

Firework regulations vary from city to city. Portland is one of Oregon’s more restrictive jurisdictions. It banned all fireworks last year, from bottle rockets to sparklers.

Portland Fire Bureau spokesperson Laurent Picard said the ban resulted in a drop of firework-caused blazes from 44 to 15, over what amounts to the two-week peak firework season.

“Overall we’re very pleased and encouraged that Portlanders abided by the ban,” Picard said. “Fires were markedly decreased.”

Portland leaders are asking people not to call 911 just because they hear or see a firework.

“We need to keep the 911 system open for actual fires and actual medical emergencies,” Picard said. ”Now if somebody is injured from a firework, or an actual fire is witnessed from a firework, absolutely call 911.”

In 2017, a single firework led to the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned over 48,000 acres of forest along the Columbia River Gorge.

Other cities have more permissive firework regulations. Bandon, for example, permits sparklers but still bans bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers.

The Bandon Fire Department said a good rule of thumb is: if a firework flies or explodes, it’s more tightly regulated. Fines for illegal fireworks in Bandon can reach $750.

Authorities tend to restrict flying and exploding fireworks because they can more easily cause fires and injuries.

Clark County, Washington, officials said the improper disposal of fireworks puts waste workers at increased risk. They’re asking residents to sweep up and dispose of fireworks debris, as required by local laws. Authorities say fireworks should not be placed in recycling bins; put them in water overnight, then in the trash.

Authorities say unused fireworks are explosives and should be taken to the appropriate drop-off site, like the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office or the Vancouver Police Department.

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue is urging people to be more aware of how fireworks affect veterans and pets.

“Fireworks produce sounds similar to gunshots, which can cause physical and mental distress to those who have experienced combat,” the department said a statement.

“Fireworks can also frighten pets and farm animals as they don’t understand what’s happening. Try to limit the quantity and length of time fireworks will be set off.”

(Courtesy of Portland Fire Bureau, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Clark County, Washington)

About 40% of firework injuries involve hands or fingers, specifically from people holding and lighting the firework. Most ER firework visits involve children and young adults. Injuries can involve everything from partial amputations to blindness.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.