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Fireworks laws vary, but sales are brisk

Steve Dreschbach checks out TNT Fireworks in Deer Park on Monday. Laws covering the sale, possession and use of fireworks vary. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Dreschbach checks out TNT Fireworks in Deer Park on Monday. Laws covering the sale, possession and use of fireworks vary. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re looking for Spokanites this Fourth of July, you may want to check in Idaho.

With Spokane County in its 16th year of a near complete fireworks ban, residents can continue to head to Idaho where “safe and sane” fireworks are legal.

“Safe and sane” products include fountains, sparklers, smoke devices, spinners or snakes – those designed not to fly or explode. Three cities in Spokane County allow “safe and sane” fireworks: Airway Heights, Deer Park and Medical Lake.

“State Line’s location is like a war zone on the Fourth,” said Lee Clifton, who manages the TNT fireworks stand in front of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Post Falls. Clifton said 15 percent of his business comes from people crossing the state line.

“We haven’t seen any diminishment in sales, we’ve just seen more Washington plates,” he said.

At their TNT stand on Highway 41 in Post Falls, Mark and Heather Freber sell merchandise to people from Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota and Arizona – mostly Hoopfest traffic. A substantial number of their regular customers mosey up timidly to the stand.

“They come here and whisper, ‘I’m from Spokane. What can I get away with?’ ” said Heather Freber.

The Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation sells fireworks, but they can only be lit and possessed by tribal members. It’s illegal for a nontribal member to possess fireworks bought on a reservation.

Stand operators say they haven’t been affected by the recent explosion at a big fireworks factory in China, which seemed likely to result in a shortage of products in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management announced June 20 that it is illegal to use or possess fireworks on BLM-managed public land. Fireworks also are illegal on national forest lands.

“There’s a fire danger with high temperatures drying out the grasses,” said Scott Pavey, field manager for BLM’s Spokane district. “Anyone responsible for starting a fire on public land can be fined the cost of the fire suppression.”

Yet fireworks stand employees say business is booming.

“We’ve sold tons,” said Charlene Pugh, who works at the State Line TNT location, which started selling on Friday.

The Frebers said their sales have increased this year. “We’ve been doing bang up. Sunday was a $1,000 day,” Mark Freber said. “We have fewer customers, but they’re spending more.”

Many fireworks stands are operated by or for nonprofit organizations, including church groups, Kiwanis clubs and Scout troops, Clifton said. Proceeds from his and Pugh’s tents go to Gospel Lighthouse Church in Post Falls.

Pugh hopes Spokane’s fireworks ban doesn’t expand into other communities. “It’s our livelihood. If they take it away from us, we’ll be bummed,” said Pugh. “But we’ll go wherever they sell them. Montana if we have to.”

Pugh doesn’t understand Spokane’s ban; it cuts out the fun for kids, she said.

“Fireworks are a fun family get-together time. The danger is usually not the fireworks but the people lighting them,” she said, who has two sons ages 9 and 12.

Clifton understands the worry surrounding dangerous aerial fireworks like bottle rockets and Roman candles, but thinks Spokane could change to “safe and sane” sales. That would mean less business for Idaho stands, which are flourishing.

Pugh’s first sale on Sunday was $500. While Clifton said the typical customer spends $75, he is selling more $100 packages than normal. As of Monday, the Frebers had sold $5,000 in fireworks.