The price of irresponsible fireworks use | Editor's Notebook

If personal fireworks are ever banned in Kitsap County, here’s who will be to blame:

Users of personal fireworks in Kitsap County.

Use of personal fireworks requires responsible use. What a neighbor and I found after the Fourth did not represent responsible use.

I was away from home on the Fourth. On July 5, a neighbor picked up bottle rockets that had been fired in the vicinity and landed in her yard. The trail of burned-out bottle rockets continued into my front, side and back yards.

When I returned home, I found more in some precarious places. One bottle rocket had landed in some dry straw that was mulching a garden area. Another bottle rocket had landed on a mat on my back deck. I found a burned-out bottle rocket next to a piece of wicker furniture with seat cushions. If the bottle rocket had landed on the cushion, I might be writing this column from a hotel room.

Residents should be able to have a reasonable expectation that they can use legal fireworks on the Fourth as a way of celebrating the anniversary of our nation’s independence. But residents should also be able to have a reasonable expectation that, whether they are at home or away, fireworks users are using fireworks responsibly and that their property is safe. When one threatens the other … well, consider San Juan County.

In November 2010, voters in the archipelago banned the use of personal fireworks out of concern for the fire risk they posed in the largely rural, forested islands.

“Fireworks can injure people and start unwanted fires,” Orcas Island Fire Chief Kevin O'Brien said at the time. “Last year in the state of Washington, there were 264 fires and 212 people injured due to fireworks; 89 of the fires were homes resulting in a total loss of over $5 million. Because of the ordinance approved by the voters of San Juan County and the associated dangers of fireworks, we ask people to enjoy the public displays and refrain from using personal fireworks.”

Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor and Lopez Island put on fine public fireworks displays, enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors. As do Poulsbo and Kingston.

Wait, you say: Bottle rockets are illegal in Washington state, which means they must have been purchased on a reservation.

Wait, we say: Don’t blame “the Indians.”

Tribal governments have the right to set rules for the kinds of fireworks that can be sold and used in their jurisdiction, just as local governments, county governments and state governments do in theirs. And Washington state says you can’t use bottle rockets, missile-type rockets, chasers or salutes in its jurisdiction (see www.wsp.wa.gov/fire/docs/fwlicensing/lglfwrks.pdf).

The rules are clear: If you visit Indian Country (see 18 USC § 1151 for definition) and buy a firework considered illegal by non-Indian Country jurisdictions, you are violating the law in those jurisdictions. Want to use a firework you buy in Indian Country? Check with local tribal authorities for the appropriate place in their jurisdiction where those fireworks can be used. If you want to use fireworks in Poulsbo, use fireworks that are considered legal to use in Poulsbo. And use them responsibly.

(These jurisdictional restrictions are not unlike those that prohibit you from buying a Cuban tobacco product in Canada and bringing it south across the border, or from taking certain fruits and vegetables with you into Canada).

I’m sure my neighbor and I weren’t the only ones to find burned-out bottle rockets in their yards. Sure, our homes didn’t burn down. No harm, no foul? Not quite. Public safety requires personal responsibility and consideration of the community at large, not luck of the draw.


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