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City to consider granting fireworks permits

The City Council appears ready to soften its stance on a citywide fireworks ban, and is now considering a permit process coupled with a ban when fire danger is high.

In October, a council majority approved the first reading of an ordinance that would have banned the use of fireworks throughout the city.

But before the council approved the second and final reading of the ordinance on Tuesday, City Administrator Martha Bennett and Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns presented an option to allow people to apply for permits to use fireworks around the Fourth of July.

A council majority voted to have city staff members come back at a future meeting with a draft ordinance that would allow a citywide ban during times of high fire risk.

Bennett said options city staff could prepare include a total fireworks ban, a permitting system for the use of legal fireworks and an "on/off switch" in which no permits would be issued when the official fire danger level reaches "high."

Individuals or neighborhoods could possibly apply for permits to have their own fireworks displays. They would have to pay a fee and Ashland Fire & Rescue staff would instruct residents on safe fireworks use.

Two fires were caused during Fourth of July festivities this year when people threw legal fireworks into the air. The fires were put out before they caused extensive damage.

"I'm interested in exploring the idea of allowing block parties to have legal fireworks," said Councilor Kate Jackson, who voted with the majority for the preparation of an ordinance that would ban fireworks use during times of high fire danger.

People who live above Siskiyou Boulevard and North Main Street would not be allowed to get permits for fireworks, even if a permitting system is created. The area above those streets begins to blend into the forested hills that make up the Ashland watershed.

Councilor Carol Voisin, who lives above Siskiyou Boulevard, argued against the use of fireworks anywhere in the city.

She said allowing fireworks below the boulevard and North Main Street puts homes and businesses there at risk.

"Their livelihoods, their homes are at stake," she said.

Councilor Eric Navickas said he believes creating the permitting system for the use of fireworks would be an administrative nightmare. He joined other councilors in voting for the motion that allows a ban during high fire risk. That motion did not preclude the development of a permitting system that could be used when fire danger is lower.

For his part, Mayor John Stromberg said he realizes that some councilors fear a total ban on the use of fireworks could be unenforceable.

The fireworks ordinance options would not affect the public fireworks display that is sponsored by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.