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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Here’s where you can, and cannot, use fireworks in Spokane County and beyond

At the TNT Fireworks stand in Nine Mile Falls, Shane Carter, wife Amber and daughter Sonja, 8, pick out their Fourth of July fireworks with help from Lakeside High School head coach Devin Bauer, who operates the stand as a fundraiser for the high school football team. The stand is located in Stevens County, making it a stop for Spokane County residents looking to buy fireworks otherwise prohibited from being sold in unincorporated areas of the county.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nick Gibson and Claire Lyle The Spokesman-Review

Devin Bauer spends most of the year leading the Special Education Department, work-based learning program and football team at Lakeside High School.

He’s passionate about his work, and he’s good at it; in 2021, Bauer received the Regional Teacher of the Year award from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But for the past eight years, Bauer steps into the shoes of a salesman for a week while he oversees the fireworks stand at the Rosauers in Suncrest. The stand has served as a major fundraiser for the football team for decades, he said.

“It’s been passed on from head coach to head coach,” Bauer said. “The guy before me ran it for 20 years, and the guy before him ran it for eight or nine.”

Bauer’s stand offers just about everything a fireworks enthusiast might want for their Fourth of July celebration, and he said he thoroughly enjoys getting to operate it each year.

“It’s fun seeing what’s coming out; it’s fun seeing the little kids get excited about snakes and sparklers and all that kind of stuff,” Bauer said. “And it’s fun to see the parents get excited too about showing their kids, saying, ‘Oh, when I was a kid, we did this,’ you know?”

While it’s legal to sell and use aerial fireworks in Stevens County where Bauer is, it’s a bit more restrictive on the other side of the county line.

The rules and regulations surrounding fireworks can differ from one jurisdiction to another in Spokane County. The city of Spokane has had an all-out ban on the books for more than 30 years, while Airway Heights allows fireworks only on the holiday itself.

Some of the stringent policies in Spokane County led many residents to make the trek out to Bauer’s stand in Stevens County, where they can secure a few dazzling mortars, screaming mines and colorful shells. Bauer said most of the stand’s sales are to Spokane-area residents.

“I’d say about 80% of my clientele,” Bauer said.

Brandon and Sarah Lavezzoli brought their daughter Melody to the stand Monday to secure “the big stuff,” they said.

The couple said they plan to head to Airway Heights to set them off Thursday, and that they look forward to seeing what they missed out on while growing up in California, where fireworks regulations have long been in place.

“We pretty much just bought what we would like,” Sarah Lavezzoli said. “Because there’s less regulation in Washington, which is kind of nice.”

Jamie McIntyre, the Spokane Fire Department’s Community Risk Reduction Manager, said many of the local and national regulations regarding fireworks are prompted by the dangers that can be associated with fireworks, especially in a dry region accustomed to wildfires like Eastern Washington.

In a typical year, there are an average of five, and sometimes only a couple, fireworks-caused fires between June 28 and July 6, McIntyre said. Before the ban took effect in 1993, the 10-year average for that time period was 104 fires each year.

“It’s made our community significantly safer,” McIntyre said.

Before the ban, fire departments in the region were unable to meet the demands of the community due to the large number of fires and injuries occurring, McIntyre said. Restrictions, when they’re followed, tend to lead to less calls for police or fire services, which means quicker responses for those dialing 9-1-1 in an emergency.

Injuries from fireworks have increased nationally since 2008, and hit a peak in 2020 when many public displays were canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s annual fireworks report. The commission received nearly 10,000 reports of injuries involving fireworks that needed emergency room care last year, with eight of those resulting in death.

Of the eight deaths that occurred in 2023, five were associated with misuse and two with a device malfunction; one involved unknown circumstances, according to the report.

Fires are another major concern that can lead to regulation of fireworks, much like the burn bans issued when the risk of wildfires are high. More than 19,500 fires are started by fireworks each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In Washington, there was a reported 310 fires sparked by fireworks in 2022, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The agency said fires involving fireworks caused more than $12 million in property damage statewide last year.

McIntyre said injuries in Spokane have remained relatively stable over the last few decades, aside from an occasional drop, with less than five people being treated at area medical centers each year.

“It’s a testament to our community and to our collective work that we are not trending with those national averages but have less fires and less people being injured,” McIntyre said.

Rules regarding firework use by municipality

The cities of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney, Millwood, Liberty Lake and the unincorporated communities around Spokane County all have strict no fireworks policies.

Meanwhile, in the towns of Rockford, Deer Park and Airway Heights, lighting off some fireworks is permitted under certain circumstances.

Medical Lake is typically included under the “allowed” umbrella, but Mayor Terri Cooper and the Medical Lake City Council have banned the use of fireworks for the rest of the year as the town continues to rebuild after the Gray fire.

Common fireworks are permitted in Rockford and can be set off from noon on July 3 until midnight on Independence Day. Common fireworks could include hand-held sparklers, cones or cylindrical fountains, smoke devices and some aerial fireworks, as described by state law.

Fireworks can be set off in Airway Heights between noon and midnight on July 4, as long as it is on private land.

In Deer Park, residents are able to set off fireworks between noon and midnight on the day of the holiday, also on private land.

Violating these laws is considered a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, and it can often come with a hefty price – in Spokane city limits, any code breaches have a $536 fine. In Spokane County, fines can run north of $500 per infraction.

A good rule of thumb, McIntyre says, is “if you light it, it’s considered illegal,” in Spokane County.

Across the state line in Idaho, it is illegal to set off fireworks that travel or shoot sparks higher than 20 feet in the air, or outside of a 15-foot diameter.

Fireworks vendors have attempted to circumvent those regulations regarding aerial fireworks for years by having buyers sign an affidavit swearing not to set them off within the state. In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office clarified both the sale and use of aerial fireworks is illegal despite assumptions to the contrary.

Setting off those illegal fireworks is a misdemeanor in Kootenai County, but common fireworks can be used from midnight June 23 to midnight July 5. Violating the county’s restrictions on fireworks is considered a misdemeanor, and can be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, or a jail sentence of up to six months, or both.

Claire Lyle's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.