Future fireworks seasons may be shorter


Patriotism, matching the hot weather, was at a feverish pitch this July 4.

But not everyone had a bang on Independence Day – or in the days leading up to and following the holiday.

For La Conner area firefighters, already grappling with extended dry and windy conditions, fireworks activity lost some of its pizzaz. Their enthusiasm was dampened by the number of fireworks-related fires to which they responded.

In fact, Skagit County Fire District 13 staff, which serves Swinomish Reservation and rural La Conner, are now suggesting limiting the local fireworks season in the future.

“We’ve had a lot of brush fires this year, almost all of them started by fireworks,” Fire Chief Wood Weiss told district commissioners at their monthly hybrid meeting last Thursday. “I think we need to discuss the possibility of narrowing the length of time that fireworks are allowed.”

One of the fires occurred in a residential area off Reservation Lane. Firefighters were able to prevent the blaze from spreading to homes in the area but some parked vehicles there were damaged.

Commissioner J.J. Wilbur, who serves on the Swinomish Tribal Senate, said that panel is addressing the issue as well.

“It’s definitely been a topic of discussion at the senate table,” he said, “in terms of what days, times and locations are suitable.

“We definitely have to talk about fireworks and the hazards they present,” Wilbur added. “What I really worry about is the woods out here. When it’s very, very dry, a fire could plow through the entire reservation, including Shelter Bay.”

For decades, Swinomish vendors have enjoyed robust fireworks sales from stands in the village and at March Point. Over that time period, lighting fireworks has evolved into a two-month happening, Weiss noted.

“It usually goes on a month before the Fourth and a month after,” he said.

This year’s dry stretch and concerns impacted the fire district on other fronts. Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Jurdi said the district has not mobilized crews to assist at regional wildland fires yet this summer.

“We decided not to mobilize,” he explained, “because of the Fourth of July and fireworks. That turned out to be a good decision because we had quite a few brush fires.”

Fortunately, there is plenty of time between now and next year to craft an effective fireworks safety plan.

Wilbur indicated the months ahead won’t be squandered.

“I’ve handed out the shovels,” he quipped. “There’s people digging for answers.”

The same can be said for the prospect of bringing Skagit Bay Search & Rescue and its boat under the Fire District 13 umbrella, which has long been studied on an off-and-on basis. Weiss and District 13’s Gary Ladd, who is affiliated with SBSR, revisited the subject Thursday.

Ladd said SBSR would likely be utilized more often through District 13 than the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office and would be in position to provide quick responses to those in distress on local waters.

“Because of the temperature of the water here,” Ladd said, “hypothermia sets in quickly and we need to be called out quickly.”

To formally link, some insurance issues must first be resolved, said Ladd.

“We’re just looking for an opportunity to respond and be insured while responding,” Ladd said.

District 13 Capt. Ted Taylor, the department’s emergency management officer, noted that Shelter Bay has taken a big step toward self-sufficiency with the receipt and equipping of a donated cargo container being converted to a disaster relief center. Taylor and Ladd said members of the Shelter Bay board of directors will be trained to join a unified command should the fire district have to immediately respond to an emergency or natural disaster situation.

The option of water rescues was raised briefly in connection to the possibility of an earthquake or wildfire either closing roadways or causing significant traffic congestion on evacuation routes.

“The logistics,” Taylor acknowledged, “would be difficult for an Operation Dunkirk.”

Commission Chair Bruce Shellhamer closed the 75-minute meeting by praising the firefighters and EMTs for their yeoman work and professionalism.

“I hear from people every week about the good work everybody is doing,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but kind words on how we respond.”


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