Fireworks ban idea snuffed out

Oak Harbor residents will be able to celebrate the Fourth of July the patriotic way — with sparklers, Roman candles and smokers.

The City Council unanimously voted against a proposed ban on all fireworks within the city limits, which if passed, would have gone into effect next year. That means residents can still fire up safe-and-sane fireworks during the fireworks season, from June 28 to July 5.

Council members listened to nine audience members, including a few representatives from fireworks factories, who argue passionately on both sides of the issue.

“In the 230 years of this republic,” said Jacob Cohen, a local attorney and the mayor’s husband, “fireworks have been the preeminent way to celebrate the Fourth of July. ... It’s part of our culture, is what I’m trying to say.”

The main concerns among folks who wanted the ban was the nuisance and potential safety issues with the explosive devices. City Attorney Phil Bleyhl wrote the proposed ban after speaking with downtown residents who complained about the amount of noise and mess that occurs each Independence Day. People who go downtown for the city’s fireworks display shoot off many of their own fireworks.

“It’s not just safe and sane fireworks,” Bleyhl said, “but insane and unsafe fireworks.”

Bleyhl said that it would be easier for police to enforce the “bright line of a total ban” than the current ordinance, which draws a somewhat fuzzy line between legal and illegal devices. He pointed out that many other communities, including Burlington and Anacortes, have banned all fireworks.

John LaFond, former council member, argued that fireworks cause more problems than they are worth.

“I know my previous dog and current dog would thank you greatly,” he said about the ban.

Oak Harbor resident Bob Brown said he has to clean up all the fireworks debris from his yard every July 5; fireworks have scorched his roof. Some years he’s brought the bag of garbage to the mayor’s office as a protest.

“I don’t like the idea of a potential fire,” he said, “taking my home and everything I’ve worked for all these years.”

On the other side, Barbara Berry Jacobs argued against the ban, pointing out that local service groups make a lot of money each year selling legal fireworks in the city. Last year, the Soroptimists handed out more than $6,000 in scholarships funded by fireworks sales.

Kurt Carol with American Commercial Events, a fireworks company, said the real problem is lack of education of the proper use of fireworks and the sale of fireworks on Indian reservations that are illegal to use off the reservation.

“I don’t think we should take this away from the youth,” he said. “I don’t think we should take this away from adults.”

Fire Chief Mark Soptich said the fire department has responded to 18 fireworks-related incidents since 2001. Most of the calls involved landscape or grass fires started by fireworks. There was one reported injury in that time. In one case, a person set off multiple fireworks inside a multiple family dwelling and caused alarms to go off.

While council members said they were sympathetic to those who want the ban, they all were opposed to the idea. A number of them spoke fondly of Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks in their youth. They said they would hate to ruin the fun for the younger generations.

“To me the Fourth of July and fireworks are as American as apple pie,” Councilman Eric Gerber said. “I would hate to have to tell my 5-year-old son that we need to go out in the county to eat apple pie.”

Legal or “safe-and-sane” fireworks may be discharged between noon and 11 p.m. June 28 and between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. June 29 through July 3. On the Fourth of July, fireworks can be lit between 9 a.m. and midnight on July 4. They can be discharged between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 5.

Legal fireworks are Roman candles, cone fountains, helicopters, smoke devices, and sparklers. Illegal fireworks include sky rockets or missile-type rockets, firecrackers, salutes or chasers.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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