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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As current dry, hot conditions increase fire risk, authorities in Inland Northwest counties urge against fireworks this Fourth

“I’m wearing this for the rest of the day,” said Balee Jo Johnson, 16, as she wears a tiny Fourth of July hat Thursday at her mother’s fireworks stand in Post Falls.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Thinking about shooting off your own fireworks this Fourth of July? You might have to think again.

As the area comes off a record-breaking heatwave, almost every jurisdiction in the Inland Northwest has some sort of fireworks ban in place to prevent wildfires. Even in counties that don’t have a ban, officials have been urging the public to refrain from putting on their own display and go watch a professional show instead, though the city of Spokane announced Thursday that four of its planned fireworks shows were canceled because of the fire risk.

“With less than average precipitation this spring and the extreme heat in our region of recent days, our fire risk is high,” Jamie McIntyre, of the Spokane Fire Department, said on a Spokane Regional Health District Facebook Live event.

Normally, fuel conditions are not this dry and critical by the Fourth of July, Vaughn Cork, Department of Natural Resources wildfire fuels specialist, told reporters Wednesday, and it doesn’t look like there will be any significant relief this season.

“We want to encourage people to please do everything they can to prevent these fires from happening in the first place,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz told reporters.

Ahead of the holiday weekend, Franz issued a statewide burn ban on Thursday, effective through Sept. 30, on all state forest lands. It bans outdoor burning, campfires, charcoal briquettes and prescribed burns. The use of fireworks is always illegal on state public lands.

In 2020, 20 wildfires were caused by fireworks, with 22 the year prior, according to data from the Department of Natural Resources. According to the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office, there were 597 reports of fireworks-related incidents in 2020. Those resulted in 237 injuries and 360 fires.

Most counties in the state have some sort of burn restriction right now, and while each Eastern Washington and North Idaho county has its own rules for fireworks, most are urging the public not to use them this year.

Fireworks rules in the Inland NorthwestAll fireworks are illegal in Spokane County, including in the cities of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney and Liberty Lake. Fines for fireworks range from $536 to $1,000, according to the city of Spokane.

In preparation for the Fourth of July, Chief Bill Neckels of Fire District 4 in northern Spokane County, said fireworks are extremely concerning given the recent heat. He said the district has “upstaffed for the holiday weekend.”

Fire Chief Cody Rohrbach of Fire District 3, which serves southwestern Spokane County, said his district boosted staff during the heat wave and will keep extra staff throughout the holiday.

Doug Bleeker, assistant chief of Spokane County Fire District 9, which is north of the city of Spokane, said since the countywide ban on fireworks, problems caused by fireworks have fallen dramatically. Bleeker said he is not anticipating many fireworks to ignite fires.

His district also increased staffing during the past week’s heat wave .

In previous years, Medical Lake and Airway Heights have resisted implementing fireworks bans, but this year might be different.

The Spokane County Fire District 3 issued a fireworks ban in Medical Lake on Monday, citing increased fire risk. The city’s municipal code allows for the use of fireworks on July 4, unless the holiday is during “a period of hot, dry weather accompanied by low fuel moistures.”

No official fireworks ban has been issued in Airway Heights, but the fire department is strongly discouraging their use, citing a statement from the Inland Empire Fire Chiefs Association on the city website.

The statement urged everyone to leave the fireworks displays to the professionals.

“The unprecedented drought, unseasonably dry fuels, and record-breaking heat will make fires difficult to control and extinguish,” the statement read.

The Colville Tribal Council on Thursday banned the sale and ignition of fireworks within the reservation boundaries until Oct. 1, according to a news release. It also passed resolutions prohibiting open fires and closing the Hellgate Game Reserve and Swawilla Basin due to fire risk.

All violations of these prohibitions will result in a $5,000 fine.

“Today’s actions are necessary to protect the lives and property of all residents,” Council Secretary Karen Condon said in a statement.

The Colville Reservation has been devastated by multiple large wildfires in recent years, especially in 2015 and last year.

In Kootenai County, there is no current fireworks ban, but authorities are urging the public to go to a professional display instread.

Kootenai County Sheriff Robert Norris said in a Thursday news conference that he does not support banning fireworks “for our citizens of our freedom-loving county, but with freedom comes responsibility.”

“We are facing a very dangerous set of circumstances with regards to our fire danger,” Norris said.

Norris said he would have likely supported a ban on the sale of fireworks had that conversation been earlier in the year.

In Idaho, aerial fireworks are considered illegal while “safe-and-sane” fireworks, such as cone fountains, sparklers, wheels and whistles, are legal. Kootenai County officials on Thursday said if people want to use fireworks, they should use safe-and-sane fireworks instead of aerial ones, which present even more of a risk for wildfires.

S-R reporters Sydney Brown, Sophia McFarland, Shafiq Moltafet and Jordan Tolley-Turner contributed to this report.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.