After a 5-4 vote last week, the King County Council approved a ban on fireworks in unincorporated King County, which will take effect next year.
Ordinance 2021-0057 received a do-pass recommendation from the Council Committee of the Whole on March 27, prompting the mandatory 30-day waiting period before being brought before the full council. Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci introduced the bill, which will prohibit all forms of fireworks, including sparklers and smoke bombs.
The bill will have no effect on lawfully permitted fireworks displays or on fireworks on tribal trust lands. Violations of the ban will be treated as misdemeanors, with penalties including up to 90 days in prison and a $1,000 fine. Every day that an individual violates the law will be counted as a separate offense.
McDermott cited a deadly 2019 house fire in White Center, which is bordered by Burien and Seattle, both of which prohibit the purchase and use of fireworks without a permit, in a press release about the passage of the legislation. That blaze, which was started by fireworks, killed a 70-year-old man, two dogs, and displaced 12 occupants of a neighboring home.
“It is past time for King County to do what most cities and parks have already done. People in unincorporated King County deserve the same protections as those living in cities,” McDermott said.
Fireworks, according to the press release, pose a clear public danger and safety threat, causing injuries and property damage. Concerns over wildfires are also cited as reasons for the ban. In the past, islanders have expressed fears about wildfires caused by fireworks on Vashon during unseasonably dry summers, which McDermott has said helped shape his position on the issue.
Balducci echoed his remarks. “Personal safety, fire safety, and distress to people and pets are some of the good reasons many King County cities have adopted firework regulations,” she said in the press release. “It just makes sense to expand these protections to our King County residents.”
The debate about banning private fireworks has intensified on Vashon, with people on both sides of the debate weighing in on social media and in the past about the legislation. And some believe the ordinance will cause more harm than good. Vashon Fireworks Co. founder Gabriel Felix believes the ban will only encourage residents of unincorporated areas to buy unlicensed fireworks from elsewhere, resulting in increased safety risks that a ban will not address.
“I understand the intentions and I appreciate them. But I think the legislation isn’t thoughtful. Because I don’t think it’s going to make people safer or provide a higher degree of protection. I honestly think it’ll do the opposite,” he said.
The fireworks company, which has been in business for 14 years in the former Sound Food parking lot and now raises funds for charities associated with the Anthro Northwest “Anthropomorphic Art Convention” in Seattle, will close at the end of the summer. Felix also expressed concern about the potential fine and jail time for lighting anything as small as a sparkler and added his fear that law enforcement responses to instances when the ban is violated may result in serious consequences for those who use them, particularly in communities of color.
The ordinance includes language requiring the county to develop a strategy for compliance measures and to engage in immediate, unarmed, non-police responses to possible violations, as well as launching an awareness campaign regarding the new legislation.
Felix said he will look back at the years the stand was in business fondly.
“I think the most important thing is to convey thanks to the people who supported it, and who created beauty with the products and used things safely,” he said. “I think everything has a season. And 14 years is a long time. I [did] it because I love the beauty of the fireworks and I wanted my neighbors and friends to have access to safe, beautiful products.”
There are already some restrictions on what kinds of fireworks are allowed. For more information on what is currently legal in unincorporated King County, visit tinyurl.com/3vzy5j9c.