News

Ready for a hot 4th

The National Weather Service is predicting that it may be a moist Fourth of July weekend on Whidbey Island, but firefighters and law enforcement will be ready in case something fiery or dangerous occurs.

Booths in Oak Harbor have started selling so-called “safe-and-sane fireworks,” but emergency personnel still worry about the inevitable flow of illegal fireworks that will make it onto the island. Perhaps the most dangerous are the rocket-types.

“They can land on people’s roofs,” said Chief Joe Biller of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, “or tip over and launch into crowds.”

Oak Harbor, Island County and Coupeville residents must abide by the state law governing fireworks. Under the law, consumer fireworks may be only be discharged between noon and 11 p.m. June 28; between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. June 29 through July 3; between 9 a.m. and midnight July 4; and between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 5.

The easiest way to tell if a firework is legal is to buy it at a booth on Whidbey. Legal fireworks include sparklers, cylindrical and cone fountains, wheels, ground spinners, sparklers, smoke devices, helicopters, and best of all, Roman candles.

North and Central Whidbey have had few fires or other Fourth of July-related problems over the last few years. But while most residents and visitors will be grilling meat and spitting watermelon seeds, many people will be at work keeping the rest of us safe.

In the county, the biggest concern is grass and brush fires. Chief Marv Koorn of North Whidbey Fire and Rescue said extra volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel will be on duty from Friday through Monday. Two rigs will be on the road Friday through Sunday and three rigs on Monday.

“We did this last year,” he said, “and it was very successful in keeping the fires down.”

Battalion Chief Ray Merrill with the Oak Harbor Fire Department said the recent wet weather is good news for firefighters, but it doesn’t ensure a trouble-free holiday.

“You can’t predict,” he said. “Some years we have tons of grass fires and roof fires and some years we don’t have any.”

To be prepared, an additional two full engine crews, with eight people, will be on duty over the holiday weekend.

On Central Whidbey, Chief Biller said he’s asked the 45 volunteer firefighters to pay extra attention to their pagers. The community has had good luck on Independence Day over the last few years, with no notable fireworks problems or an unusual number of car accidents.

Along with firefighters, police officers and deputies will be patrolling the island or overseeing the many special events on the island this weekend. There’s the parade and fireworks in Oak Harbor, a island marathon, as well as the the Maxwelton parade and Third of July fireworks on South Whidbey.

A lot of extra cops will be out in Oak Harbor. Capt. Rick Wallace with the Oak Harbor Police said about a dozen extra officers will be at the events and a couple extra patrols will be on duty over the long weekend.

While the officers will likely be running down fireworks complaints, Wallace said the main concern will be alcohol-related car accidents.

“There’s a lot of partying that goes on,” he said.

The patriotic holiday is the busiest time of the year for the Island County Sheriff’s Office. Jan Smith, the sheriff’s spokesperson, said the office will have extra personnel on each shift, as well as citizen patrol and reserve deputies at large.

While she’s not very concerned about possible fires this year, Smith warned residents to take extra care of their pets and livestock. Fireworks, she said, can cause animals to be skittish and bolt. Every year the office receives reports of missing animals on July 5.

She advises people to keep their dogs and cats inside or in a garage. People with livestock should make sure fences and gates are secure.

“Try to spend extra time with pets,” she said. Which is good advice year-round.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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