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Oregon City, Happy Valley, Gladstone among cities discouraging use of fireworks; extra patrols planned

Story updated with Clackamas County's fireworks ban, and Gladstone's decision not to ban use of fireworks.

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Arlo Martin, 5, and his father, David, live in the unincorporated area outside Oregon City, where they looked forward to playing with sparklers that they purchased in town.Cities across Clackamas County are responding to the extra threat of fire this year by either banning all fireworks or promising extra police patrols against people who violate the statewide ban against aerial fireworks.

Clackamas County is banning the use of fireworks throughout unincorporated areas, through July 10, citing increased risk of wildfires. County Board Chair Tootie Smith said that the area cannot afford to risk more wildfires, after communities across the county were ravaged last September, and other wildfires have already forced the evacuation of homes this spring.

"We appreciate the community's understanding, cooperation and sacrifice as we work together to protect the place we call home," Smith said. "Any spark has the potential to destroy our community. As leaders, we must do everything in our normal course of businesses and in emergencies to protect our community from threats. That is why we placed a ban on fireworks this Fourth of July."

Milwaukie's complete fireworks ban followed Portland's similar ban earlier in the week, and Gladstone had scheduled an emergency meeting June 30 to consider banning fireworks. Gladstone city councilors were divided on the issue, however, and the meeting resulted in the city's police and fire chiefs sending out a message to citizens encouraging them to "party responsibly" with only legal fireworks, and urging them not to mix use of fireworks with alcohol.

"It was determined by a majority that to enact a ban less than a week prior to the Fourth of July is difficult to enforce and could cause additional frustration after the pandemic restrictions," said Gladstone Administrator Jacque Betz. "This year our efforts would be better served through educating the public about the extreme conditions and continue to focus on the enforcement of illegal fireworks."

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Big Bang Fireworks employees Keagan Cloud (left) and Stone Rathbun are relieved that the pop-up business on Molalla Avenue in Oregon City didn't face a ban on using sparklers within city limits.Oregon City and Happy Valley both strongly discouraged the use of fireworks, but these cities stopped short of a complete ban. In addition to banning or discouraging fireworks due to wildfire dangers, city officials have been emphasizing the importance of being compassionate toward residents who find fireworks to be frightening and disruptive, noting that fireworks can be particularly unpleasant for pets, veterans, children and people struggling with challenges related to mental health.

Among the alternatives to setting off fireworks suggested by city officials included attending a public professional display, watching fireworks on television or celebrating Independence Day with friends and family without the use of fireworks.

Cities asked for everyone's support to help keep communities safe by complying with fireworks regulations and calling violations to the non-emergency numbers for police.

Oregon City Police Department will have extra officers working enforcement on the July 4 weekend and use of illegal fireworks will be cited, with the minimum fine starting at $500. Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba noted his city's fine will be double the state's minimum fine, due to city ordinances.

"If the $1,000 fine isn't incentive enough, please show some compassion for our veterans with PTSD. I'm sure everyone can think of creative new ways to celebrate our independence from British rule, and your pets will thank you," Gamba said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks cause more than 19,000 fires each year. Clackamas Fire recently stated that prolonged high temperatures, lower than normal relative humidity, low moisture content in fuels and a potential for increasing winds led to an increased risk of fires. 

While urging people not to use fireworks this year, Clackamas Fire officials stated that they do not have the legal authority to ban the use of retail fireworks, so it's up to local law enforcement to enforce state laws and/or enact local bans.

"Please consider celebrating the holiday by attending a professional show or in other ways that do not include the use of fireworks," said Clackamas Fire spokesman Brandon Paxton. "We encourage the public to leave fireworks to the professionals, and we work with display operators to ensure fireworks displays can safely be performed."

Happy Valley is taking back fireworks, no questions asked, from 8 a.m-5 p.m. July 1 and 2, at its Community Policing Center, 12915 S.E. King Road, where a receptacle will be placed near the front doors to dispose of both legal and illegal fireworks "without judgment."

Happy Valley adopted a zero-tolerance policy for illegal fireworks nearly 12 years ago, according to Steve Campbell, the city's public safety director, who added that people using illegal fireworks within city limits can expect to receive $1,000 citations.

"The safety of our community is paramount," Campbell said. "We're encouraging anyone in the possession of illegal fireworks to voluntarily surrender them at the takeback event and help in safeguarding our residents and neighborhoods." 

Milwaukie has declared a local state of emergency due to the ongoing extreme heat and high risk for wildfire, along with the excessive heat warnings issued for the region by the National Weather Service. 

"We all experienced the devastating fires of last fall and probably know someone who lost their home. The last thing we want is a fire like that burning through the metro region," Gamba said. "Climate change is not a distant future thing — we're experiencing it now and it will continue to cause unprecedented problems that will affect our 'normal lives.'" 

Under the city's emergency order, the use of any fireworks in Milwaukie through July 9 is a civil infraction and subject to a fine up to $1,000 for each violation.

Stone Rathbun, who works for Estacada-based Big Bang Fireworks' pop-up business in Oregon City, said he was thankful that some Clackamas County areas aren't completely banning fireworks.

"A ban would be really unfortunate for us," Rathbun said. "It's really sad that people don't have the courtesy, sometimes, to be careful with the fireworks they're playing with."

Big Bang customers David Martin said his son Arlo, 5, said they will be safe using legal sparklers, since they live on a rural property with plenty of bare dirt and tanks of water for putting out any potential fires in an emergency.

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