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Council enacts state of emergency in recognition of high threat of wildfires.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Local residents will have an opportunity to see large-scale fireworks on July 24 during the abbreviated Old Fashioned Festival. The fireworks will be set off from the former WestRock paper mill on Wynooski Street beginning at 10 p.m.

On July 2, Newberg followed the lead of more than a dozen Oregon cities in enacting an immediate ban on fireworks in response to the heightened danger of wildfires across the state.

After a nearly 90-minute online emergency meeting the Newberg City Council passed two motions – one enacting a state of emergency through Aug. 1; the second banning the use of all fireworks until July 19, when the council will address the issue at its second scheduled meeting of the month.

"The council declared a state of emergency due to the extremely dry conditions created by record-breaking temperatures in the last week that heightened already dry conditions," a release from the city said.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the motion enacting the state of emergency, but was split 4-3 on the second motion. The nay votes came from councilors Denise Bacon, Mike McBride and Mayor Rick Rogers, while councilors Stephanie Findley, Elise Yarnell Hollamon, Bryce Coefield and Julia Martinez Plancarte voted in favor of the ban.

Neither of the motions came with much instruction for city staff on how to implement them, including directions for police officers who will respond to calls of people using fireworks illegally.PMG FILE PHOTO - The Newberg City Council voted 4-3 in favor of banning the use of fireworks within the city limits until at least July 19.

City Manager Dan Weinheimer said the city could erect electronic boards at the entrances to the city to advise people of the ban, but added that that step was unlikely as public works employees were likely headed out for a three-day weekend less than two hours after the council's decision.

The Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue district was represented at the meeting by Chief Allen Kennedy, who advised the council that the district was urging people to refrain from using fireworks in light of recent dry weather and the wildfires that struck the region in September, including one TVF&R personnel fought for days on Bald Peak.

In taking action, Newberg followed the lead of four other cities within the TVF&R district: Wilsonville, Tigard, West Linn and Tualatin. Beaverton and North Plains considered a ban, but had not enacted one as of Friday evening. TVF&R has also ordered a high fire danger burn ban throughout its district, which prohibits backyard and agricultural burning as well as any other land clearing or controlled burning. 

Hollamon said the threat of sparking a disastrous wildfire required the council to take action: "We couldn't have it on our conscience that we didn't take a stand against it."

McBride advocated for citizen responsibility rather than government mandate.

"I would say ban (illegal fireworks) and just use the legal ones and just put a caution out and say just make sure you have a hose, you'gve got a buck of water and just trust that people are going to be responsible," he said.

Rogers told the council that the city, TVF&R and the police department put out notices advising safe use of legal fireworks and added that there is a steep fine (upwards of $1,000) for the use of illegal fireworks.

Bacon, who said she has seen firsthand the devastation visited on towns like Detroit and Otis, had hoped a ban would be unnecessary given the obvious danger of human-caused wildfires.

"I would like to believe that human beings could be told, 'Hey, don't do it.' I'd love to live in that world, but …," she said. She suggested, however, that the council adopt a time frame for when fireworks would be banned, particularly in the late evening when Kennedy said incidents are more common. The motion adopted by the council didn't include that language.

The impact the ban likely had on stands selling fireworks, including nonprofits groups raising money, was not lost on the councilors. Rogers queried Weinheimer if the city had some mechanism for businesses to recoup losses due to the ban. Weinheimer said there is not, but it appears the city didn't ban the sale of fireworks within its boundaries, only the use of them.

Ultimately, Bacon wondered, was a ban on the use of fireworks enforceable?

Newberg-Dundee Interim Police Chief Jeff Kosmicki said it would probably be better to encourage people to not use fireworks rather than mandate it. He added that complaints have been minimal so far this year.

"Prior to this Fourth of July weekend the reports were much lower than in past years," he said following the holiday. "We only received five calls going back to June 1. It is pretty common for us to receive five fireworks complaints a night during the weekend up to the Fourth."

The department increased its numbers during the holiday weekend.

"We did have extra officers scheduled because this weekend is always pretty busy," Kosmicki said. "Last year we had 41 calls over the weekend and this year we had 60 reports about fireworks being used. I think the uptick in complaints was based on the council ban. I noticed far fewer illegal fireworks compared to last year."

The city's release prior to the holiday encouraged responsibility and warned of potential consequences for those who flout the law.

"Fireworks may be confiscated and violators will be subject to fines," the release said, urging residents to act responsibly.

"The city of Newberg also asks the community to please consider the safety of your neighbors, our firefighters and the community as a whole. Dry weather has created conditions in which a single wayward spark could set off a much larger fire incident. Even fireworks considered legal in Oregon can create dangerous conditions when they contact dry grass or vegetation. We are asking that you please keep the safety of the community in mind this year and do not use fireworks."

The ban on fireworks will continue until at least July 19, when the council will revisit the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting.

"As far as whether or not the ban should continue throughout the summer, I would rely on the professional firefighters from TVF&R and what their recommendations would be," Kosmicki said. "I Know one thing for sure, I certainly don't want to relive the devastating wildfires that we saw rip through Oregon communities last year. That was heartbreaking."


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