A map showing areas protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Map courtesy ODF

Can you legally light fireworks if you live in Gales Creek, Glenwood, or Hillside this year? It depends on where you live.

While Forest Grove and other cities have banned fireworks this year to varying degrees in an attempt to avert a potential wildfire catastrophe, those in unincorporated Washington County have only the urging of firefighters and Washington County commissioners, who say it’s a bad idea. 

"With record breaking weather and drought in 2021, we are urging people to not use fireworks this year. Please attend a public display, watch fireworks on television, or just celebrate with friends and family without fireworks," Forest Grove Fire & Rescue said in a statement.

Rural fire districts — such as the Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection District where Gales Creek and Glenwood lie — are specifically prohibited from banning retail fireworks under Oregon Revised Statute 480.160.

Forest Grove’s annual fireworks display was cancelled for 2021 long ago, due not to fire danger, but COVID-19 restrictions at the time.

In a message to the Gales Creek Journal, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesperson Dave Nemeyer explained. 

“The decision to buy the fireworks needed to be made shortly after the first of the year, and the covid risk levels from the Governor were still so unpredictable at that point,” Nemeyer said. “It wasn't something the firefighters association felt they could risk going forward with unless we could do a show that had people in attendance.”

The annual Banks fireworks show, sponsored by the city of Banks, the speedway, and local businesses at Sunset Speedway is still on, the city said. 

The show is expected to begin around 10 p.m. following the final race of the night.

"Banks Fire will have a crew and apparatus standing by as usual when the fireworks are set off," said Banks Fire District spokesperson Mitch Ward in a message to the Banks Post.

But for many rural residents in the communities outside of Forest Grove, the choice is made for them, much like it is during many summers when the Oregon Department of Forestry deems the area to officially be in fire season. 

If you live within ODF-protected lands, you can’t legally light a firework while the Oregon Department of Forestry deems the Northwest Oregon Fire Protection District to be in fire season. 

Fire season officially began here on June 22.

To find out if your home is within ODF-protected lands, visit this online map from the ODF and click the location you live

You’ll know you’re in ODF-protected lands if the map says what district you’re in. That’s Forest Grove District for many of our readers. Also noted will be the current fire danger level, and information on what’s prohibited. 

The district border skirts the core of Gales Creek, but some living further from downtown Gales Creek lie within ODF-protected lands.

And those who live west of the first arm of Lyda Drive on Highway 6 are within the bounds of ODF’s protection area, which includes Glenwood. 

Hillside is mostly out of the ODF-protected area, though a small sliver of land between Highway 6 and Strohmeyer Road are within the bounds. 

For those who can legally light fireworks, or those who will light them illegally regardless of  what firefighters and elected officials say is a risky move, follow some simple safety guidelines. 

Neighboring fire agency Banks Fire District provided this newspaper with some tips.

“General safety tips for personal use of fireworks are to always use fireworks outside with a bucket of water or hose nearby. Keep fireworks away from dry leaves and other materials that can easily catch on fire. Light one firework at a time. Keep the firework you're lighting well away from unlit fireworks,” said Banks Fire District spokesperson Mitch Ward in a message.

Ward also pointed readers of this newspaper to an online resource for more firework safety tips.