A Forest Grove Fire & Rescue vehicle stationed at the Gales Creek Fire Station. Photo: Chas Hundley
Independence Day, America’s most explosive holiday, is falling less than a week after this part of Oregon experienced a deadly heat wave, and more dry, hot weather in the forecast offers little relief to tamp down fire risk.
According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, at least 63 deaths in Oregon — 5 of them in Washington County — are believed to have been caused by the heat wave. The medical examiner said that the deaths were still being investigated and that final causes of death had not yet been determined.
In the wake of the 2020 Labor Day Fires — the state’s most devastating fire season — and the current fire danger, fire officials almost everywhere are asking local residents to skip the fireworks this year and head to a professional display instead.
"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.
The annual Banks fireworks show at Sunset Speedway is still on, the city of Banks said Thursday.
While Forest Grove and several 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.
The Forest Grove city council met Wednesday evening for a special session to discuss banning fireworks after hearing from the head of Forest Grove’s fire agency and police department.
During the meeting, acting Fire Chief Patrick Fale noted that a theory existed that such a ban could push residents from jurisdictions where fireworks were banned to light off fireworks in surrounding rural areas — such as Gales Creek — where no such ban exists.
The council voted 5-2 in favor of a ban, which applies only to city limits.
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.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, which covers much of the county and elsewhere, urged residents to avoid personal fire fireworks as well.
“This is normally the busiest time of year for emergency responders and dispatchers without record temperatures, and the heat has proven difficult for the most vulnerable in our communities. Only call 911 to report emergencies,” TVF&R said in a press release.
On Wednesday, June 30, the Washington County Board of Commissioners urged county residents to forego fireworks.
“We understand that Independence Day has special meaning to many people this year as we finally emerge from statewide COVID restrictions,” said Chair Kathryn Harrington. “What we’re asking is that everyone consider the great harm and suffering that could occur with even one unintentional fire caused by fireworks during this holiday season. The risk is just too great and we’re pleading with people to consider other ways of celebrating like a backyard gathering, trip to Hagg Lake or even attending a professional fireworks display that has been permitted for safety.”