The Lewis County Board of Commissioners held an informal discussion Tuesday about a possible temporary ban on discharging fireworks in unincorporated Lewis County this Fourth of July.
Two issues ultimately prevented the commissioners from taking any further action: a short timeline and difficulties enforcing such a ban.
The three county commissioners invited Sheriff Rob Snaza and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin McDowell to discuss the issue at their regular business meeting.
Cities and counties around the region have grown increasingly worried in recent days that the upcoming holiday could lead to an increase in fires after a week of record-breaking temperatures dried out vegetation.
Commissioner Gary Stamper said the discussion was triggered by news of Thurston County’s ban last week on consumer fireworks in unincorporated parts of the county during the holiday.
Discussion was also influenced after Lewis County Fire Marshal Doyle Sanford heard requests from citizens in favor of a fireworks ban this year, according to a news release from the county.
“I know that it is very dry out,” Sanford told The Chronicle in a separate interview. “I know that people need to be safe, be smart about it.”
Conditions were critical enough on Monday that the National Weather Service issued a red flag weather warning — meaning that critical fire weather conditions are either imminent or actively occurring — for Lewis County. The warning was lifted Monday at 8 p.m.
Because the weather has started to cool down — dropping from 106 on Monday to 85 on Tuesday with forecasted highs in the 80s for the rest of the week — Sanford told The Chronicle he did not see the need for an emergency ban.
“If the red flag weather warning would have continued, we would be having a different discussion,” he said.
For more than a week, unincorporated areas of Lewis County have been under an emergency burn ban set in place by Sanford due to substantial risk of fire danger.
At the commissioners meeting, Snaza said enforcing a fireworks ban would prove nearly impossible due to the sheer size of the county.
On a busy Fourth of July weekend, Snaza said, there tends to be anywhere from 12 to 15 calls they receive each night about fireworks, and that’s on top of the number of calls they already get.
“I think that if we’re responding to calls, this is not going to be a priority. I hate to tell you that. I’m not trying to downplay this in any way,” Snaza said. “If it amounts to something that we need to go to, we will definitely go. But I guarantee you if someone is lighting off firecrackers in some rural place outside of Onalaska or Cinebar, I doubt you’re going to get a lot of presence simply because we’re doing something else.”
Snaza said the neighboring Thurston County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t plan on enforcing its ordinance unless “it’s serious.”
McDowell said many other counties have engaged in fireworks safety outreach, which is one direction the county could take in encouraging people not to discharge fireworks this holiday.
He also said the county has options to broaden the burn ban it already has. The county could, under the current burn ban, extend the definition of “recreational fires” to include fireworks, but McDowell recommended against that. The county could also crack down on Washington state law: one state statute prohibits the discharge of fireworks on most surfaces other than pavement.
Broadly speaking though, McDowell said passing a temporary ban this late in the game would be virtually impossible. The county wouldn’t be able to meet publishing requirements for such regulations and state law requires a one-year implementation period for laws regarding fireworks usage.
“Passing an ordinance to deal with it isn’t really an option, at least not for this Fourth of July season,” McDowell said. “Probably the best thing to do, or at least my recommendation, would be the education and outreach approach.”
Stamper said he has not heard from any fire chiefs with concerns or opinions on fireworks this season. Passing an ordinance banning fireworks would be meritless without enforcement, he said.
Snaza said his deputies will continue to bring down the weight of the law against any reckless behavior or those who pose a clear and significant risk to property. He said his office will continue to weigh calls about fireworks on a case-by-case basis, but deputies realistically cannot enforce every single call.
He was also in favor of putting information on the county’s website and educating the public, calling it the best option with the limited amount of time the county has.
“I think our citizens are responsible enough to know how to operate a firework and use common sense to do them on pavement,” Commissioner Sean Swope said.
With no countywide fireworks ban, the Toledo Lions Club is among the local groups continuing fireworks sales.
“The Toledo Lions Club has been selling fireworks for decades and it is our biggest fundraiser,” the club posted to its Facebook page. “The Lions have to order fireworks and get permits months in advance. Fireworks are in short supply this summer due to COVID and prices went way up. We have only one stand this summer … and we think we will sell out before July 4.”
The Lions Club is currently selling fireworks at Toledo Market Fresh on Cowlitz Avenue.
State law allows firework sales and discharge between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. June 29 through July 5 — with fireworks discharge allowed until midnight on July 4 — unless local regulations dictate otherwise.
The City of Centralia is the only municipality in Lewis County with its own fireworks restrictions: within city limits, people can purchase fireworks between noon and 11 p.m. July 1 through July 4 — and discharge is only allowed between noon and midnight on July 4.
Fireworks are illegal on national forest land at all times, regardless of weather or conditions.
Enrolled tribal members are not subject to state jurisdiction and can sell fireworks on reservation land.