Clallam County approves fireworks ordinance

After more than two years of debate, Clallam County lawmakers have passed a fireworks ordinance based on fire danger in unincorporated areas.

The three commissioners voted on Oct. 27 to adopt regulations based on state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) industrial fire precaution levels.

The ordinance is more restrictive east of the Elwha River and bans consumer fireworks throughout the county when the fire danger is moderate or high.

“This was a compromise,” commissioner Bill Peach said.

The ordinance will take effect in one year, giving Fourth of July revelers one more summer to abide by state regulations that allow the sale and discharge of consumer fireworks from June 28-July 5.

Beginning in 2022, fireworks will be allowed east of the Elwha River on the Fourth of July only.

Fireworks still will be allowed west of the Elwha River from June 28 to July 5 as long as the DNR fire danger remains below 3.

All of unincorporated Clallam County would be under a fireworks ban if the fire danger reaches level 3 (moderate) or 4 (high), according to the ordinance.

The cities of Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend have each banned fireworks. The Clallam County ordinance does not affect the four tribes within the county.

The city of Forks follows state law for fireworks. Officials there have not discussed a fireworks ban, Forks City Attorney/Planner Rod Fleck said Tuesday.

The Clallam County law is a compromise between those who strongly feel fireworks are a part of the Fourth of July tradition and others who feel fireworks pose too much fire risk.

Commissioners have received voluminous public input on the issue since an initial public hearing in June 2018.

“We took a tremendous amount of public testimony and heard loud and clear from approximately half of the folks who commented that they would really like to see an all-out ban or restrictions on fireworks,” commissioner Mark Ozias said.

“We heard from many others the exact opposite, that they would prefer that we do nothing.”

Commissioner Randy Johnson said the ordinance would “probably not make everyone happy” but resulted in a “fair compromise.”

The board postponed previous hearings on the fireworks proposal that were planned for March 24, May 12 and June 9 because of COVID-19.

“Although the COVID crisis continues, the county has now established many reliable ways to ensure public participation in meetings,” county administrator Rich Sill said in the Oct. 27 virtual meeting.

“Also, the recent wildfires throughout the western Untied States have highlighted the importance of moving forward with this ordinance.”

One person testified at last week’s hearing, a man who identified himself only as Randy and asked why the Elwha River was used as a boundary between the levels of restrictions.

“The Elwha River was chosen as a compromise,” Ozias said.

“Given all the conversation around how to balance those competing interests and looking at different interests within the county geographically, we were looking for a pretty easy-to-understand dividing line, something that didn’t snake back and forth and that was the natural dividing line that made the most sense, which we hope will be helpful both for our residents and for enforcement, eventually.”

Those who violate the county’s fireworks ordinance will be subject to an infraction and a fine of up to $250, the ordinance states.

“It’s a well thought-through document and has had quite a bit of input from the community,” Peach said.

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