Firefighters warn revelers in Oregon and Washington to be extra careful with fireworks
Injuries and deaths related to fireworks have increased during the pandemic. Authorities in the Pacific Northwest are therefore asking people to be more careful this July 4th.
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has seen a 50% increase in deaths and injuries from fireworks during the pandemic. The injuries came as many municipalities canceled public July 4 protests, prompting some people to celebrate at home, where fireworks can be more dangerous.
Fireworks regulations vary from city to city. Portland is one of the most restrictive jurisdictions in Oregon. It banned all fireworks last year, from bottle rockets to sparklers.
Portland Fire Bureau spokesman Laurent Picard said the ban led to a drop in fireworks-caused fires from 44 to 15 during the peak fireworks season two weeks.
“Overall, we are very pleased and encouraged that the people of Portland have complied with the ban,” Picard said. “The fires have decreased significantly.”
Portland leaders are asking people not to call 911 just because they hear or see fireworks.
“We need to keep the 911 system open for real fires and real medical emergencies,” Picard said. “Now, if anyone is injured by fireworks, or if a real fire witnesses a firework, absolutely call 911.”
In 2017, a single fireworks display caused the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned more than 48,000 acres of forest along the Columbia River Gorge.
Other cities have more permissive fireworks regulations. Bandon, for example, allows sparklers but still prohibits bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers.
The Bandon Fire Department said a good rule of thumb is: if a firework flies or explodes, it’s more strictly regulated. Fines for illegal fireworks in Bandon can reach $750.
Authorities tend to limit flying and explosive fireworks, as they can more easily cause fires and injuries.
Officials in Clark County, Washington, said improper disposal of fireworks puts waste workers at increased risk. They are asking residents to sweep up and dispose of fireworks debris as required by local laws. Authorities say fireworks should not be placed in recycling bins; put them in water overnight, then in the trash.
Authorities say unused fireworks are explosives and should be taken to the proper drop-off site, such as the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office or the Vancouver Police Department.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue urges people to be more aware of how fireworks affect veterans and pets.
“Fireworks produce sounds similar to gunfire, which can cause physical and mental distress to those who have experienced combat,” the department said in a statement.
“Fireworks can also scare pets and farm animals because they don’t understand what’s going on. Try to limit the amount and duration of fireworks.
Fireworks Do’s and Don’ts
(Courtesy of Portland Fire Bureau, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Clark County, Washington)
- Understand local regulations. Laws may differ depending on where you live, so make sure you know what’s legal in your city and county.
- Don’t relight the fireworks. If a firework does not go off after being lit, do not attempt to light it again. Have a bucket of water handy. Wait five minutes, then put the failed firework in water to make sure it doesn’t smolder.
- Supervise children. Children can get very excited about fireworks. But remember that even harmless fireworks, like sparklers, can be dangerous. Embers on the ground can cause injury. Make sure children wear shoes outside.
- Limit the size of home fireworks. Large canned fireworks are not suitable for home use.
- Do not hold or light a firework. Fireworks can go off sooner than expected and cause severe burns.
- Do not use fireworks under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- only adults should light or handle fireworks.
- Location is important. Keep fireworks away from buildings, vehicles and vegetation.
About 40% of injuries from fireworks involve the hands or fingers, especially among people holding and lighting the firework. Most ER fireworks visits involve children and young adults. Injuries can involve everything from partial amputations to blindness.