The Thurston County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-0 late Monday to allow officials to prohibit consumer fireworks in unincorporated areas during periods of extreme fire danger.
The new ordinance won’t take effect until 2017.
“It’s the fire danger that makes me so nervous,” Commission chairwoman Sandra Romero said.
Commissioner Bud Blake said he supported the proposal because it is “a public safety issue.”
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After the vote was taken, Commissioner Cathy Wolfe proposed an even stricter move: an outright ban of all consumer fireworks in unincorporated areas.
“After 16 years of hearing so many stories of fires, roofs on fire, fires in yards, kids getting hurt, danger, pets, little kids having nightmares and all the problems that’s caused with all the noise, neighbors, on and on,” said Wolfe, who is retiring when her term expires at the end of the year. “And the PTSD is the latest thing that’s really concerned me the last few years, as well — people that have real issues with all of that noise.
“I’m just coming down more and more on the side that I think we need a ban.”
Wolfe’s proposal died without a second.
Before the vote, the commissioners conducted a public hearing, and a majority of people who spoke opposed any form of a fireworks ban. Wolfe, however, said many of the letters and comments the county received before the meeting supported more restrictions. Between public and written comments, 41 people supported some form of ban, and 39 were against more restrictions, Wolfe said.
“We’re pretty much evenly divided,” she said.
Those who spoke against a ban cited a variety of reasons. Some said nonprofit organizations would lose money if they couldn’t operate fireworks stands, or that the county should focus its enforcement efforts on bigger issues. Others stated that fireworks are an American tradition.
“I wonder if you keep taking away our joy and our freedom, just when will people say enough?” said Jeanne Jarecki, who lives near Yelm.
Daryl Murrow, who lives near Lacey, said his family has an annual Fourth of July picnic that includes a festive display of fireworks.
“It is an expression of our freedom,” he said. “It’s something that we have, that we can use to celebrate … one day of the year.”
But Debra Jaqua, who lives outside Olympia, said she dreads the Fourth of July every year because of fireworks. She said the noise and problems don’t just last a day — the thundering booms in her neighborhood began last weekend and usually continue until after the holiday.
“I’ve been a soldier. I, too, value our patriotic freedoms, but I think another freedom would be freedom from fireworks,” she said. “I support the ban wholeheartedly. There are other ways for us to celebrate our freedoms, our country, that we value.”
Now, Thurston County follows state law for the sale of consumer fireworks, which allows fireworks to be sold noon to 11 p.m. on June 28, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on each day from June 28 through July 4, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on July 5. The discharge of consumer fireworks is permitted only 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. on July 3 and July 4.
The new regulations will give county officials authority to authorize a temporary of consumer fireworks in times of high fire danger, according to a copy of the proposed ordinance.
The county manager would have the authority to issue the ban. A staff memo provided to the county commissioners said staff would do so after consulting with the county fire marshal and others, such as fire chiefs or the Department of Natural Resources.
After the meeting, Blake said professional shows that operate with a permit in the county wouldn’t be affected by an emergency ban. The ordinance covers consumer fireworks only, he said.
However, the new regulations could face modifications. Prior to the vote, commissioners discussed possibly amending the ordinance at a later time to allow people to discharge legal fireworks in designated areas of the county during burn bans.
But Blake said any change to the ordinance probably wouldn’t take effect until 2018.