Fireworks bans on the rise amid fears of 'devastating' wildfires after heatwave

Fireworks bans are on the rise after a record heatwave in the Pacific Northwest rekindled concerns that explosive celebrations could cause wildfires.

The unprecedented heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has prompted officials in both Oregon and Washington to issue fireworks bans as a safeguard against the development of wildfires.

“If we don’t take this proactive step now, I fear the consequences could be devastating,” Sara Boone, fire chief of Portland Fire & Rescue, said in a press release. “It is not easy to make a decision like this so close to our national holiday but as fire chief, I feel I have a higher responsibility to sometimes make unpopular decisions during unprecedented times to protect life, property and the environment.”

Recent headlines served as a reminder of how powerful and dangerous fireworks can be: About ten pounds of illegal fireworks packed a wallop of damage in a Los Angeles police seizure gone wrong — flipped cars, shattered windows and more than a dozen people injured, according to a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles.

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Clark County in Washington prohibited the use and sale of fireworks through the Fourth of July; other cities in the southwest Washington area have imposed similar bans, according to Willamette Week. A number of local and state officials in other states, including Idaho, Montana, Utah, Texas and Colorado, recently implemented fireworks bans in parts of their state.

Some bans include professional fireworks displays, which in general are considered safer than fireworks set off by amateurs.

“When there is severe dryness or drought conditions, it’s not uncommon for cities or municipalities to implement restrictions on fireworks use or burn bans,” Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said.

Heckman said that while fireworks retailers in other states, such as Texas, have been able to find work-arounds to fireworks bans, unusual weather in the Pacific Northwest presents unexplored territory for the region.

“The industry has kind of gone through this situation in the past, but I think in the Pacific [Northwest] right now, this is a little bit unique and there’s not time to develop those safe-use areas,” Heckman said.

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Philip Higuera, a professor of fire ecology at the University of Montana, said as extreme dryness and heat become increasingly prominent features of the country’s climate, fireworks bans are also more likely to become commonplace.

“I would expect as our summers become warmer and dryer, and basically as fire danger is elevated in summers across more of the West, I would expect to see more areas instituting fireworks bans,” Higuera said.

Higuera, along with a group of over 150 fire scientists, penned an open letter urging West Coast residents to refrain from using fireworks this Fourth of July, citing a concern for “widespread fire activity.”

“This will be critical for a safe Independence Day holiday, good practice for the rest of the fire season and one way we can adapt to more safely live in increasingly flammable landscapes,” the letter reads.

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Collective opposition to fireworks isn’t new. In 2020, the National Fire Protection Association issued a statement discouraging people from using consumer fireworks in the absence of professional fireworks displays during the coronavirus pandemic. And in 2006, a city council group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, commissioned a fireworks task group “to study the impact of fireworks on public safety,” leading to the passage of an ordinance that banned the sale and amateur use of fireworks in the city.

“One of the reasons why we’re highlighting the Fourth of July is because it’s the fires that are started by humans that are the most threatening and damaging to humans,” Higuera said. “So, it’s not that we need to prevent and stop all wildfires. It’s the ones that are started by humans, which are typically close to where we live – those are the ones that turn into human disasters.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fireworks bans: Fears of 'devastating' wildfires after heatwave