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Outlaw fireworks in Jackson County

Jackson County is one of the driest areas in the state of Oregon, so it is more susceptible to large wildfires like we experienced recently in Oregon and Northern California. It cannot be disputed that the risk to lives and property could be catastrophic when the right conditions persist. The sale and use of fireworks in Jackson County is part of the broader community concern regarding the risks of wildfire and the related impacts to the communities that have been widely discussed recently. This is why it is important that we make the sale and use of fireworks illegal.

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge cost over $40 million and destroyed 49,000 acres. OregonLive reported on June 28 that: The fire marshal’s office says there were almost 320 reported fireworks-related fires statewide in 2017. They caused over $861,000 in damage to homes and other structures, and eight injuries.

More recently, a teen setting off fireworks in White City caused a 115-acre grass fire in July 2018. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, multiple vehicles were damaged, including a bus, two RVs and six boats. Four outbuildings and a residential structure were also destroyed.

It is my understanding that the sale and use of fireworks are not allowed in Ashland, Jacksonville, Rogue River and Shady Cove. I find it interesting that Jackson County will allow the sale of fireworks right outside the city limits of cities that do not allow fireworks at all. That does not speak well for the disregard Jackson County has for the support of the fireworks laws within four cities, any hazardous areas within Medford plus the vast amount of woodland areas outside all the cities in the county. This action implies that Jackson County does not care. Four of our cities did the right thing and need Jackson County’s support to eliminate all individual fireworks and illegal fireworks.

Jackson County should review how permits for fireworks displays are granted for special events. A few years back a huge fireworks display was granted a permit for a wedding on Old Stage Road in the middle of August. Ask yourself, would you want that kind of display next door to your house in August? On the other hand, although there was a fire caused by last year’s Fourth of July fireworks display, the Medford Chamber put on a well-planned community event in the right location with plenty of support from Fire District 3.

Finally, there is the issue of illegal fireworks that are imported into the state and set off illegally. Illegal fireworks include such items as mortars, bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers, etc. Anyone violating Oregon fireworks statutes faces confiscation of the devices and a civil penalty of up to $500 per violation.

The real question is what have any offenders actually been fined for these offenses locally? Has it been $250, $100 or something even lower once it goes through the court system? I do not think the fines are high enough to provide a deterrent. You can look from any hillside in the Rogue Valley and see illegal fireworks being set off in all directions on or around July 4 without any regard for the law. There might be a case for making the fine $5,000 since no one pays attention to the lower fines that are in place now. The fine must be high enough to make it an effective deterrent and government entities must team up to enforce the law.

If the right conditions exist we could lose one of our cities or woodlands due to fireworks. So what do we do about it? Bottom line: We need to do something soon. Jackson County commissioners, Fire District 3, the city of Ashland, Jacksonville Fire, Rogue River, Shady Cove and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office plus many others were contacted regarding this issue. The worst thing we can do is nothing.

The timing is right! I believe it needs to start with Jackson County, a top-down approach. Just reflect on Eagle Creek, Paradise and Redding, California, where vast amounts of property were destroyed and many lives were lost. That can happen here. We have been lucky containing some fires quickly near our cities — on Roxy Ann Peak in Ashland and the fire near Costco this year. We need to do something now for the safety of our citizens, the health of our animals and to protect our property in this beautiful place that we live.

Gary Hill lives near Jacksonville.