July 2, 2014 in City

Spokane leaders remind public that fireworks are illegal

By The Spokesman-Review

The ban is old enough to have graduated from college.

Yet the city of Spokane made nearly two dozen total arrests the past two summers for lighting or possessing fireworks in city limits.

Spokane fire officials joined community leaders on Tuesday in reminding July 4 revelers that fireworks remain illegal under the 1993 ban, which is also in effect in Spokane Valley, Millwood, Cheney, Liberty Lake and the unincorporated areas of Spokane County.

Lisa Jones, Spokane fire marshal, acknowledged the ban can sometimes be difficult to enforce. Officials are challenged with the influx of calls during the holiday weekend, despite an increase of officers on the street.

“We are stretched short over this holiday weekend,” she said. “We’d like to be able to reserve all of the emergency responders to people who are having actual, serious emergencies.”

The city’s definition of fireworks includes firecrackers, bottle rockets, missiles and sparklers. Officials emphasized that even fireworks bought legally – from Indian reservations, for example – can still be confiscated.

The city has made 43 arrests for illegal fireworks since 2009, according to the Spokane Municipal Court.

In Kootenai County, residents outside Indian reservations may light “safe and sane” common fireworks that do not leave the ground, such as sparklers, according to police.

But aerial fireworks are prohibited everywhere except the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, and all fireworks are prohibited in Coeur d’Alene city parks and on Tubbs Hill. Fines can be as much as $300.

Spokane officials touted the ban as necessary for public safety and quality of life. Prior to the ban, fireworks-caused fires in the city averaged at 104 per year, according to a news release. In the 21 years since, the annual average has dropped to five.

In a similar trend, fireworks-related injuries have dropped from 29 per year to five per year, officials said.

More than a dozen representatives from a variety of local organizations at a news conference Tuesday at the Spokane Fire Training Center explained how fireworks can be harmful to children, families, veterans and animals.

Nicole Montano, field operations manager for SCRAPS, said the animal protection service’s busiest day of the year is July 5, when it has to track down animals that fled homes in fear. She asked that pet owners keep their animals inside with doors and windows locked.

“The fireworks are very scary for all animals,” Montano said. “We had dogs break through windows to get out; we’ve had dogs jump fences to get out. The best thing you can do is ensure they’re safe inside your home.”

Seth Maier, veterans’ representative at WorkSource Spokane, said the loud pops of fireworks can aggravate a veteran’s “invisible wounds of war,” such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain injuries.

“If the veteran was around gunfire, loud explosions, IEDs, these sounds are very familiar,” Maier said. “It’s only natural that a serviceman with these injuries would have a hard time dealing with this.”

Federal law bans fireworks on all public forest lands and woodlands, such as Colville National Forest.

“Fireworks represent a real threat to our forests in spite of the wet weather we have been having,” said Laura Jo West, Colville National Forest supervisor, in a statement released Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the Department of Natural Resources announced a burn ban through Sept. 30 for all its lands east of the Cascades. The agency reported 172 wildfire starts have burned about 779 acres of land.

Fines for disobeying the ban can range from $513 to $1,000, plus the cost of any damage associated with fires as well as response costs.

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