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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Fire chief wants higher fireworks fine

Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams wants a fivefold increase in the fine for shooting off fireworks to stem growing disobedience of the city’s 13-year-old fireworks ban.

But members of the Spokane City Council said Monday that while they’re open to considering the proposal, they’re unwilling to speed it through. They decided instead it will have to wait until after this year’s Independence Day celebrations.

The fine would go from $103 to $513 under Williams’ proposal, changing the violation from a class-3 to a class-1 civil infraction.

Williams unveiled his proposal before members of the City Council on Monday and asked them to consider taking emergency action at next Monday’s 6 p.m. council meeting at City Hall.

“I think if you go up to 500 bucks, it’s probably going to get somebody’s attention,” Williams said. Some violators are willing to risk a $103 fine, but probably would be deterred by a $513 fine, he said.

Nearly all of Spokane County, including the cities of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Cheney, is under fireworks bans. Only Airway Heights, Deer Park and Medical Lake allow the so-called “safe and sane” type of fireworks. Firecrackers, bottle rockets and missiles are illegal throughout Washington.

Residents eagerly light their fuses in those places.

“It’s like a mini-Beirut out here on the Fourth of July,” said one Airway Heights city worker who declined to give her name.

Illegal fireworks obtained from nearby Indian reservations are frequently seen and heard throughout the region.

Spokane Valley’s Fire District 1 operates under state law to enforce its ban. There, a violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

District 1 Fire Marshal Kevin Miller said his department currently relies on police or sheriff’s deputies to issue criminal violations, but the department is seeking the authority for its fire officers to issue tickets starting in 2006.

Fireworks were banned in the city of Spokane starting in 1993 after holiday revelers laid siege to parks and neighborhoods. In 1985, there were 260 fireworks-related fires, and there were more than 100 fireworks fires in 1989, 1990 and 1991, according to department statistics.

Injuries reported by area hospitals declined from a total of 59 – with one fatality – in 1984 to no more than a half dozen each year since the ban went into effect.

The number of fires dropped dramatically as well. There have been no more than 15 fires a year since 1992, and some years passed without a single fireworks-caused fire. Last year, officials said there were six fires blamed on fireworks.

At the same time, the number of fireworks complaints logged by Spokane authorities more than doubled from 408 in 2003 to 872 in 2004.

Williams said the department has sought primarily to educate fireworks violators, and issued fewer than two dozen citations in 2002 and 2003 combined.

Spokane Fire Marshal Lisa Jones said the cost of enforcing the law could be recouped in part by a higher fine. “We are hoping that (higher fine) will serve as a deterrent to help us enforce the ban,” Jones said.

Jones said the consequences of using illegal fireworks can reach beyond a possible fine. The department may collect charges for putting out a fire if they determine who started it. A fireworks fire involving the side of a house or roof can cost upward of $60,000 to repair if firefighters are successful in extinguishing it, officials said.

Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said she knows of a resident whose homeowner insurance was charged for a fireworks-caused fire.

Boys ages 10 to 14 are the group most frequently injured by fireworks, officials said.

Fire officials are asking residents to lodge complaints with a fireworks hot line at (509) 625-7059.

Rodgers and Councilman Joe Shogan said they would support the higher fine, but Rodgers said it might be a good idea to delay implementation of the stiffer fine until 2006.

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