Fireworks ban upsets Vietnamese celebration

Family seeks exception to set off 15,000 firecrackers to celebrate Lunar New Year

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 27, 2014 

The Tran family — Dat, left, with mother Liz and father Loi — is asking for a five-minute exemption to the city of Olympia’s year-round fireworks ban so the family can light off traditional firecrackers for their Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 1. The event includes opening Liz Tran’s Hair Spa and Waxing salon in west Olympia for the dragon dance and refreshments.

TONY OVERMAN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Dat Tran has asked Olympia to make a five-minute exception to its fireworks ban.

His family hosts a Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration every year at Liz’s Hair Spa and Waxing. From 11-11:05 a.m. Feb. 1, the family wants to light off 15,000 firecrackers in the salon’s parking lot on Black Lake Boulevard to accompany a traditional dragon dance.

However, a new city ordinance has banned the sale and discharge of consumer fireworks. For previous celebrations, Tran’s family sought a permit from the city fire marshal.

At Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting, Tran pleaded for a five-minute reprieve on the fireworks ban. The firecrackers represent an integral part of the Lunar New Year event, which is seen as a way to bring good luck and prosperity.

For 13 years, the Tran family has hosted a celebration that attracts 50 to 60 people. Tran hopes the city will make an exception or even revise the ordinance.

“Nothing is written in the language for cultural and religious celebrations,” he said.

City Manager Steve Hall said staff members are looking for some kind of solution, but for now, the city doesn’t issue the type of permit that Tran seeks.

“We don’t have a mechanism for saying what he wants to do is OK,” Hall told The Olympian. Hall said the city prohibits personal fireworks for Independence Day, which is also a culturally significant holiday.

Olympia voters approved the fireworks ban in 2012, and the ban took effect in 2013. City Fire Marshal Rob Bradley said there was a mistake in issuing past fireworks permits for celebrations like Tran’s. Firecrackers are illegal under state law, and may only be sold or discharged on tribal lands. A permit from the fire marshal is also required to purchase fireworks.

“We were breaking the law by issuing those permits,” Bradley said. The error was discovered when the city granted a permit to Tran’s celebration in 2013, despite the ban going into effect at the beginning of that year.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum noted that exceptions in the fireworks law only address commercial displays, such as those conducted by professional pyrotechnicians.

“We do honor diversity in Olympia. This is an issue that we want staff to take a look at,” Buxbaum said. “I’m not interested in changing our ordinance from its original intent.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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