King County Councilmember Joe McDermott has introduced legislation that would ban all fireworks in unincorporated King County.
Last Fourth of July, a 70-year-old man died in a house fire in White Center. Another home caught fire in Renton. Both incidents were caused by fireworks. Elsewhere around the state and across the West, numerous wildfires have been triggered by fireworks, including some that left people dead or injured and caused millions of dollars in damage and costs to contain them. In the eyes of many leaders, fireworks present a public safety and health hazard.
To that end, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban fireworks in unincorporated King County.
“The tragic death last 4th of July in White Center demonstrates the true danger to public health posed by fireworks,” McDermott said. “While I understand that fireworks are a time-honored tradition in our country, we must recognize that unincorporated King County remains as one of the last jurisdictions in our region where you can legally purchase and discharge fireworks without a permit. We must do everything we can to protect our residents from further human tragedies, as well protect our natural areas from the increased risk of wildfire due to climate change.”
Fireworks are already banned in 25 other jurisdictions in King County, and many types of fireworks are illegal outside of tribal lands. But in unincorporated King County, restrictions are limited and enforcement is often challenging when law enforcement and fire officials must review multiple details to determine a particular firework’s place in the law. McDermott’s proposal would make enforcement clear: If it’s a firework – not a novelty or trick device – it would not be legal. This would apply to all fireworks, including sparklers and other “safe and sane” fireworks.
Working with the Executive and the Department of Local Services, McDermott’s legislation would not ban properly permitted fireworks displays nor would it impact fireworks on tribal trust lands.
If approved, state law requires a one-year waiting period before the ban could take effect, during which time the County would undertake an educational campaign about the new law.
The legislation will be referred to committee at the next full council meeting.
Mitzi Johanknecht – King County Sheriff
“With our dense population, and increasingly dry summers, this legislation is a necessary step for public safety. While we recognize the importance of celebrating our nation’s independence, protecting life and property is paramount. We encourage our residents to celebrate at safe, permitted fireworks displays.”
Liz Giba – North Highline Fire District Commissioner:
“Many residents of North Highline live in fear and are traumatized over the 4th of July holiday as our neighborhoods are inundated with fireworks. In 2019, those fears were proven well-founded when a community member lost her husband, pets and home in a fireworks-related fire. This legislation to ban the sale and discharge of fireworks is an important step forward to ensuring the safety of our community and first responders who have the difficult job of dealing with the aftermath of such tragic events.”
Chris Ricketts – King County Fire Marshal:
“In support of this legislation the King County Fire Marshal, along with other King County fire departments, state that if enacted it will help keep our communities, families and first responders safer. Consumer fireworks are a leading cause of both injuries and property losses each summer. In addition, King County faces increased threats of wildfire due to climate change, especially in our rural areas and on natural resource lands. These wildfire hazards are made worse by the risk of fireworks-related fires.”
Brigitte Schran-Brown – Vashon Fire and Rescue District Commissioner
“In 2019, the Vashon Island Fire and Rescue Board of Fire Commissioners voted to support a ban on fireworks in unincorporated King County. It is important to note that this ban is not for large licensed shows such as the ones put on by towns or municipalities across America on the Fourth of July. We all enjoy celebrating Independence Day, but we feel the ban has become necessary due to climate changes which have caused a tremendous spike in the number and size of wildfires. We see fireworks-related brush and house fires on the island, and each year we treat at least one significant fireworks-related injury, such as finger amputations. On July 5th of last year alone, over four hundred pounds of fireworks related debris were picked up from above the mean high-water mark in Vashon’s Quarter Master Harbor—and that number doesn’t begin to account for what could not be reached under water. In short, to uphold our Mission Statement of protecting our island, our people, property and environment, we feel that banning fireworks has become necessary. We support Councilmember McDermott’s proposed legislation.”
Heidi Wills – CEO of PAWS
“PAWS is in support of a fireworks ban in unincorporated King County. We know firsthand the dangers to animals, as well as the heartbreak and stress to area residents that fireworks bring. As a leading voice for animals in the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest, PAWS sees each year the impact that fireworks have on local wild and domestic animals. As with most animal shelters around the country and state, PAWS receives and cares for a dramatically increased number of lost dogs and cats in the days during and after fireworks are used. Many companion animals are frightened so severely that they will do anything to get away which can cause injury to themselves in addition to becoming lost.
“On behalf of the citizens whose companion animals are lost, injured, frightened and sometimes killed as a result of fireworks, and the thousands of domestic and wild animals who live in the County, we are fully supportive of Councilmember McDermott’s proposed fireworks ban.”