The fireworks season — at least the legal one — begins next week in Oak Harbor, but those living in unincorporated areas will have to wait before they celebrate.
Island County Sheriff Mark Brown reminds residents this is the first year that Island County’s new, more restrictive fireworks ordinance goes into effect.
Commissioners adopted the new rules this past June after rounds of spirited public hearings on the surprisingly controversial subject.
The ordinance restricts the number of days that fireworks are allowed; they can only be discharged July 3-5. Hours are restricted to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., though it’s extended to midnight on Independence Day.
Each jurisdiction on the island has different dates and times in which the discharge of consumer fireworks is allowed. Brown conceded that it can be confusing and a bit ridiculous.
People who live within city limits of Oak Harbor can start lighting off fireworks on Wednesday, June 28. Discharging fireworks is allowed from noon-11 p.m. that day. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on June 29 through July 5, except the time is extended to midnight on July 4th.
In Coupeville and Lang-ley, fireworks may only be discharged between 9 a.m. and midnight on July 4.
Fireworks are not allowed on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, not even in base housing.
The new county ordinance also allows the sheriff to now restrict fireworks discharge during a Type II burn ban.
Brown, who doubles as Island County fire marshal, said he plans on enacting a Type I burn ban on Monday. He said it’s very unlikely that he will call for a Type II ban due to relatively green conditions on the ground.
Brown reminds residents that certain fireworks are illegal in Washington state. He’s especially concerned about sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, which are basically paper parachutes over a candle; they are illegal and fire hazards.
Illegal fireworks include firecrackers, bottle rockets and other missile-type fireworks.
In addition, it’s illegal to combine or alter fireworks to create something new, like sparkler bombs.
The state fire marshal advises people to buy fireworks from licensed stands. Don’t purchase, for example, fireworks wrapped in electrical tape or brown paper, the fire marshal advised in a press release.
Some fireworks that are illegal in the state can be purchased on reservations, but they also need to be discharged there.
“Don’t take any chances,” cautions state Fire Marshal Charles P. LeBlanc. “Stay away from high-powered illegal explosive devices such as M80’s or homemade devices. While the Fourth of July happens only once a year, these devices can cause a life altering injury that can last you a lifetime.”
Brown stressed that deputies respond as they can to 911 calls about the illegal discharge of fireworks. He said the calls are “triaged” in order of severity and the deputies get to what they can.
It’s a very busy time of year for law enforcement.
Last year, the ICOM dispatch center received 205 calls on July 3, 195 calls on July 4 and 199 on July 5. In 2015, it received 269 calls July 3, 302 call July 4 and 209 calls July 5, according to ICOM Director Tom Shaughnessy.
The sheriff’s office only has two or three deputies working at any one time during those days.
“It’s not that we don’t care,” Brown said. “It’s the volume of calls.