BY EMMA HALL | OB WEB EDITOR
With the 4th of July quickly approaching, many Oregonians are crafting barbecue menus, hanging red, white and blue bunting and preparing for their annual trek across the Columbia River for illegal fireworks. Oregon only allows fireworks that travel less than six feet on the ground or 12 inches in the air, but it’s a simple trip up to Washington to buy roman candles, bottle rockets or firecrackers.
The fireworks industry has been growing nationwide, with consumer sales of 185.5 million lbs. of fireworks worth $645 million in 2012, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. In fact, there has been a trend of state and local governments relaxing fireworks laws and prohibitions since 2000, the APA says.
Not so in Oregon, where fire departments hand down a $1,000 fine plus liability for any damages if you are caught with illegal fireworks.
Portland fire chief Erin Janssens launched a public service campaign against fireworks in 2012, partly a result of the high-profile Northeast Portland restaurant Aviary burning down July 4, 2011 after only 5 months in business (and taking 5 months and $1 million to rebuild). Despite the campaign, Portland still saw 12 fireworks-caused fires and 35 fireworks-related injuries last year. It must be noted that although still a lot (a dozen is about the weekly average of fires Portland sees), 12 pales in comparison to the 55 firework-caused fires in Portland on July 4, 2004.
In her 4th of July safety message this year, Janssens warned against fireworks not only for fires and injuries but also for causing trauma to returning veterans, increasing the number of lost pets, and contributing to environmental pollution.
Perhaps this has had an effect on the number of Oregonians patronizing Washington fireworks stands. Despite the overall rise nationwide, fireworks stands are slowly dwindling in Washington — there are 90 in Clark County this year, down from 93 in 2012. Statewide, stands are down 3.2%.
Washington laws are also tightening despite the APA’s assertions. In October, Vancouver decided to limit fireworks’ use to only one day (ending at midnight July 4) and sales to only three days, beginning in 2014. The Washougal City Council voted in May to limit the sale of fireworks to six days a year, down from 13, also beginning in 2014. If the nationwide trend is towards more lax fireworks laws, the Pacific Northwest seems to be dissenting.
Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.