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Fourth keeps emergency crews hopping

Dry weather and a proliferation of illegal fireworks combined to make this Fourth of July weekend an especially busy time for law enforcement and firefighters on Whidbey Island.

Firefighters dealt with more than a dozen brush fires over the three-day, holiday weekend on North and Central Whidbey. The most serious fire involved a unoccupied mobile home on Central Whidbey that was burned to the ground. The cause is still under investigation, but Chief Joe Biller with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue said a bottle rocket was found at the scene.

Sgt. Mike Marken of Washington State Patrol said there weren’t any serious accidents on the island over the weekend, but a collision on the Skagit County side of Highway 20 — just across the bridge — caused a traffic backup and a detour, as well as a serious injury.

According to a State Patrol report, 62-year-old Darell Seymour of Kirkland was driving a 1983 Honda motorcycle southbound on Highway 20, following behind a 1998 Ford Taurus driven by 49-year-old Deborah Miller of Oak Harbor.

Miller stopped for traffic at the junction with Deception Pass Road, but Seymour was unable to stop the motorcycle in time and laid it on its side, sliding into the Ford. The passenger on the motorcycle, 57-year-old Robin McClay of Kirkland, was ejected into the northbound lane. She was struck by an oncoming 2000 Ford Focus driven by 41-year-old Heidi Sechrengost of Anacortes.

McClay was transported to Island Hospital in Anacortes, where she was stabilized and airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She was in serious condition in the intensive car unit as of Tuesday afternoon. Seymour was treated and released from Island Hospital.

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley worked calls on the weekend along with deputies. While the Fourth of July is historically the busiest day for law enforcement, he said this year was especially frantic for deputies. Last year, for example, deputies responded to 152 calls on July 3 and 4. This year the number of calls was up to 193 for the two days.

According to Hawley, this Independence Day was marked by “an overabundance of illegal fireworks.“ He said his department’s main focus is on safety since stopping the use of all banned fireworks was impossible.

“We’re simply unable to come close to being able to enforce the fireworks law,” he said.

In Oak Harbor, Capt. Rick Wallace with the Oak Harbor Police Department said it was a busy weekend for the cops, but “nothing spectacular or out-of-the-ordinary” happened. He said there were a couple of fireworks-related injuries and some damage done — things like windows busted out by fireworks.

The combination of fireworks and dry weather, however, did lead to a number of grass and brush fires. Larry Wall, the EMS chief for Island County Fire District 2, said the department responded to 25 calls over the three-day weekend. “The vast majority of those were grass fires,” he said, “and undoubtedly the majority of those were caused by fireworks.”

Oak Harbor firefighters probably had the quietest weekend. Battalion Chief Ray Merrill said they only had to battle a few minor brush fires.

On Central Whidbey, Biller said firefighters dealt with eight calls on the Fourth of July, including four fireworks-related reports. At about 9:30 p.m., just as the fireworks were beginning in a flurry, there was a report of a fire at an unoccupied double-wide trailer on Quail Trail Lane. The structure was “fully involved” in flames when firefighters arrived.

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire, but Biller said his “gut feeling” is that the fire started in the dry grass near the home, possibly by fireworks. He points out that the house didn’t even have electricity, which is a common culprit in fires.

But just because the holiday is over doesn’t mean the firework-related problems are gone. Biller said his department had to put out a grass fire at the Greenbank Farm Monday that was probably started by a kid with fireworks.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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