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Cities in Columbia County haven't announced bans, but the state has banned use in most unincorporated areas.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ST. HELENS - Fireworks light up the night over the Columbia River, during a previous Independence Day celebration in St. Helens., South County Spotlight - News Updated July 2

Officials in Columbia County are urging caution when using fireworks this weekend, but have stopped short of banning their use.

After a record-breaking heat wave and high fire risk in many parts of the state, some cities and fire districts have moved to prohibit the use of fireworks over the upcoming July 4 weekend.

Fireworks are now prohibited on most land outside city limits.

The Oregon Department of Forestry has banned the use of fireworks on ODF-protected forestlands, which includes both state-owned and private lands, and within 660 feet of those forestlands, ODF Columbia City Unit Forester Malcolm Haitt explained. Fireworks are always prohibited on federal Bureau of Land Management lands, regardless of fire risk levels.

The ODF Forest Grove District, which includes most of Columbia County, is considered in high fire danger, which is one below the highest risk on the four-step scale.

Alison Green, a spokesperson for the Oregon State Fire Marshal, said that while the state fire marshal and local fire districts don't have the authority to regulate or ban fireworks, cities and counties can do so. Fire districts can approve or deny permits for firework shows, but not regulate individual use.

Hiatt encouraged people to buy fireworks or save ones they've already purchased, and use them for New Year's celebrations. Fireworks should be stored safely, out of reach of children and away from flammable objects like natural gas appliances, Hiatt said.

In the St. Helens area, Columbia River Fire & Rescue issued a press release June 29, calling on residents to be cautious if using fireworks. CRF&R did not ban fireworks or ask residents not to use them.

"Please keep in mind that although you may not be in a restricted area, it does not mean that the danger of using fireworks or having open flames does not exist," the CRF&R press release stated.

St. Helens city spokesperson Crystal King said the city has the authority to ban fireworks but has no intention of doing so.

Scappoose Fire District similarly hasn't asked residents to avoid using fireworks, but has stressed the dangers.

"There is nothing safe about fireworks, period," Scappoose Fire District Chief Jeff Pricher said, citing research from the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. A recent report from the CPSC shows that in 2020, there were at least 18 fireworks-related deaths and an estimated 15,600 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms across the country.

The report "is glaring in how dangerous these devices are," Pricher said, "but we have no desire to prohibit people from celebrating how they want to celebrate the Fourth of July."

When asked if Scappoose planned to issue a ban on fireworks, which could be done with a vote from city council, Scappoose interim city manager Alexandra Rains said city council doesn't have any meetings scheduled before the holiday. Some cities, including Tigard, have held special meetings for council to vote on firework bans.

The Scappoose Fire District did recommend watching a firework show as a safer option.

"Safe for us is watching a professional firework show, where the blasters are actually credentialed and trained and are required to follow rigorous personal protective gear requirements, storage of the devices and safety countermeasures in the event something goes wrong," the district stated on Facebook.

St. Helens' annual fireworks show will continue as planned.

Portland Fire & Rescue (which operates as a division of city government, rather than a separate fire district like in Columbia County) issued a ban on fireworks on June 29. Bend, Wilsonville, Milwaukie, Tualatin and other Oregon cities have also issued bans in recent days.

Columbia County Commissioners declined to take any action to prohibit fireworks at the board's June 30 meeting, citing the ODF restrictions that already cover most of unincorporated Columbia County.

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