As the Fourth of July approaches, King County officials have launched a public safety campaign reminding residents that — for the first year — the sale and discharge of fireworks is illegal in unincorporated areas of King County.
The King County Council, which serves as the local government for those in unincorporated areas, passed legislation banning consumer fireworks in the spring of 2021. Following a one year, state-required waiting period, the ban took effect this year.
For the first year, the county will only be issuing warnings, said John Taylor, the director of the county’s Local Services Department, hoping to take an educational rather than punitive approach. Citations will be handed out for violations beginning in 2023, although the county hasn’t finalized what that will look like.
The new law will impact the Snoqualmie Valley (including Fall City), Skyway, White Center, Greater Maple Valley, the Enumclaw Plateau and Vashon Island. The new law does not extend to cities, which each have their own regulations around fireworks.
Much of the Snoqualmie Valley, because of its heavily forested and rural surroundings, is at a higher risk of wildfires compared to other parts of King County.
Last year, North Bend Mayor Rob McFarland issued an executive order banning aerial fireworks in the city, but allowed ground fireworks. Snoqualmie introduced a permanent ban on aerial fireworks several years ago, but also allows ground fireworks.
The Church on the Ridge in Snoqualmie will be hosting a professional fireworks show at Snoqualmie Community Park, beginning at 9:45 p.m. July 4.
The county had discussed introducing a fireworks ban for years because of a combination of injuries and wildfires in rural areas, but it was King County Councilmember Joe McDermott who first brought the legislation forward. McDermott said the legislation was prompted by the death of 70-year-old veteran, Roland Kennedy of White Center, who was killed in his home by a fireworks-ignited fire in 2019.
“There are many reasons to discuss banning fireworks, from wildfires to accidental injuries, but it was Mr.Kennedy’s death that led me to introduce this legislation,” McDermott said during prepared remarks in Skyway on June 14.
“A majority of jurisdictions in King County already ban the sale and discharge of commercial fireworks,” he said. “It was high time the county provided the same levels of public safety for residents in unincorporated King County.”
McDermott was joined by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who said he was initially opposed to the legislation with concerns about how it could contribute to excessive force and unfairly penalize low-income residents and people of color. However, after speaking with constituents, Zahilay said he had a change of heart.
“I spoke to more people. I spoke to our fire chiefs … who told me that our fire departments prepare for the 4th of July as if they are preparing for an extreme natural disaster,” he said. “[My concerns] are all valid concerns, but how do you weigh that against the toll on public safety?”
Eric Hicks, a fire chief in Skyway and president of the King County Fire Chiefs Association, said July 4 is historically one of the busiest days of the year for firefighters, with crews responding to four times the number of fires compared to a normal summer day. That also includes a substantial increase in medical calls, he said.
“This has been a plague on our community for years from our veterans to our pets. I’m glad the community brought this forward in a grassroots effort,” Hicks said. “We hope this ordinance will reduce the emergencies we respond to.”