Fireworks bring safety concerns

By Kelly Ducote / The Observer July 01, 2013 11:20 am

On the first afternoon of business, La Grande High School senior Zach Sherrod organizes fireworks for sale in the big tent in the Walmart parking lot in Island City Friday. Funds raised from the fireworks sale will go to the LHS Band. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
On the first afternoon of business, La Grande High School senior Zach Sherrod organizes fireworks for sale in the big tent in the Walmart parking lot in Island City Friday. Funds raised from the fireworks sale will go to the LHS Band. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
 

State, local officials urge caution as Fourth of July approaches

The Fourth of July means patriotism, parades and barbecues to most people.

For the La Grande Fire Department it has an added component: fires.

State and local officials are urging Oregonians to be safe as fireworks stands open and the Independence Day holiday approaches.

“People often forget that legal fireworks can only be purchased from Oregon permitted fireworks retailers and stands,” said State Fire Marshal Mark Wallace. “And regulations limit where those fireworks may be used.”

Fireworks are banned in parks and campgrounds.

Oregon law also bans fireworks that fly, explode or travel more than 6 feet on the ground or 12 inches into the air. Fireworks commonly referred to as bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers are illegal in the state.

“People can be cited with fines attached,” said La Grande Police Chief Brian Harvey. Illegal fireworks can also be seized.

Harvey said people cannot modify fireworks to make them fly or explode, either. He recalled an incident in Baker City where someone’s hand was severely injured because the individual had modified fireworks.

Legal fireworks are allowed in the city, “as long as you’re not trespassing on private property,” Harvey said.

Firefighters can also enforce the state fireworks law, though they are often more busy with calls during Independence Day. La Grande Fire Chief Bruce Weimer said they have fires every year. Statewide last year, there were more than 161 fireworks-related fires resulting in more than 36 injuries and more than $230,000 in property damage, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

“(Fireworks) are controlled to a certain extent, but once you light them, you can’t stop them,” Weimer said. “The biggest problem is fireworks that somehow move and get into vegetation.”

Weimer said juniper bushes, common in La Grande, look green and lush but burn incredibly fast. He said last year an entire row of them burned.

“Our recommendation is when you’re firing off fireworks, make sure you’re in an area with no vegetation,” Weimer said.

He also suggests people clear the area where they plan to light fireworks and make sure there is nothing overhead that could create a fire hazard.

“You should have a garden hose or bucket of water nearby,” Weimer said.

Weimer said fireworks should be soaked in water before being thrown away in case they are smoldering. He also said to make sure children are supervised when fireworks are around.

“We want people to have fun and enjoy themselves,” Weimer said. “Just be safe with them.”

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.