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Fireworks and COVID-19 create unique risks for celebrating the 4th of July this year.

While gatherings of friends and families are typical over the 4th of July and with the 4th landing on a weekend, many were probably making big plans that have since been changed due to health safety concerns and state orders restricting some gatherings. Assuming Whatcom County remains in Phase 2 of the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plain through the weekend, gatherings of five people or less are all that is allowed. 

While long-standing public fireworks displays and festivals have all been canceled for 2020 across the county, the annual gathering of people launching fireworks over Birch Bay has grown over the years to the point where the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce, who is not involved in the event, undertakes a July 5th cleanup effort that has resulted in collecting over 4 tons of garbage each year.

Chamber officials are asking the community’s assistance to be responsible and safe if choosing to fire off fireworks around the bay. “Social distancing at public areas such as beaches, parks, and restrooms may be more difficult during busier periods, so please take this into consideration before you visit, and plan accordingly,” officials advised in a recent letter.

In a news release today, June 29th, Whatcom County Health Department officials asked people to skip going to Birch Bay to set off their fireworks this year.

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We’ve seen that other large gatherings and parties have caused outbreaks in our county, and we don’t want to see a large number of new cases if people gather like normal in Birch Bay.

Whatcom County Health Department (June 29, 2020)

Officials with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources pointed out that, in addition to the added potential of fire-related injuries and wildfire risk, “There is an extra strain on the medical community at this time.”

Officials from multiple fire safety agencies are appealing to those planning on using fireworks to celebrate Independence Day to be aware which fireworks are legal and to limit their use only during permitted times.

In unincorporated areas of Whatcom County, consumer fireworks can be legally used or discharged only on the following schedule.

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  • July 3rd: 6pm until 11pm
  • July 4th: 6pm until 12am (midnight)
  • July 5th: 6pm until 11pm

Within the City of Ferndale, consumer fireworks can be legally used or discharged only on July 4th between 9am and 12am (midnight.

Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) encourages Washingtonians to enjoy consumer fireworks in a safe and responsible way by following a few simple tips.

  • Be Prepared – Buy only legal fireworks, have water nearby while lighting and keep pets indoors.
  • Be Safe – Only adults should light fireworks. Never light fireworks in your hand and never use them indoors. Always light one firework at a time.
  • Be Responsible – Clean up fireworks debris and soak used fireworks with water. Keep matches and lighters away from children.

Fireworks illegal to possess or use in Whatcom County and within the Ferndale city limits include:

  • Firecrackers
  • Bottle Rockets
  • Missile type rockets with fins
  • Fireworks with sticks or fins that fly
  • Reloadable mortar shells larger than 1-¾” in diameter

Explosive devices such as M-80’s, M-100’s, tennis ball bombs and pipe bombs are considered explosive devices and are illegal everywhere. Possession or use of these items can result in criminal charges.

The following graphics are provided by the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office.

wsp-wsfmo-fireworks_stand_list_legal_and_illegal-2019-1

wsp-wsfmo-fireworks_stand_list_legal_and_illegal-2019-2

The Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office also warns that even though sky lanterns are NOT a firework they are regulated by the State and County fire code. Sky lanterns are only allowed to be lit if they are tethered (ie. by kite string, twine, etc.) and always controlled. Any fire started by a sky lantern can result in civil and criminal charges.

Possession or use of illegal fireworks can result in both civil and criminal penalties. Any modification of a firework is considered making an improvised explosive device and is a felony. Any fire started from fireworks or explosives is termed “reckless burning” which can result in civil and criminal penalties.

The SFMO advises residents to be aware of how to legally purchase consumer fireworks online:

  • The fireworks may only be delivered to the consumer at a licensed consumer fireworks retail sales facility during the legally authorized time periods
  • The fireworks for sale must be legally allowed to be purchased in Washington and the sale, possession, and discharge is allowed in the jurisdiction where the sale is occurring
  • All advertisements for the sale of fireworks will contain the license number and expiration date of the licensee
  • The purchase or receipt of fireworks must be through a Washington licensed fireworks retailer or wholesaler

Fireworks cannot be legally purchased over the internet and shipped to a residence or picked up in any other manner than stated above according to the SFMO.

Officials with the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s Office advise to call 911 to report fires, injuries or circumstances immediately hazardous to life or property. Since some legal fireworks are loud and can be mistaken for illegal fireworks, calls to 911 to report these are often unwarranted and draw law enforcement and fire departments away from true emergencies.

fire started by a single fireworks in vacant lot at ariel ct 2016-07-03 2300
Outdoor fire started by fireworks in a vacant lot on Ariel Court (July 3, 2016). Video: My Ferndale News

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