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Holiday brings added fire danger

Editorial for July 3, 2008

The Fourth of July -- our national Independence Day -- comes on Friday. It is a time to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of our nation's "Declaration of Independence" from British colonial rule in 1776.

It's also a good time to remember that our nation has remained free ever since because of the sacrifices of so many in our military forces, and because of the commitment of our citizenry and political leaders to protect our Constitution and our freedoms. We can never take these freedoms for granted, and must always be alert to protect them when the tenets of our nation's guiding document -- our Constitution -- are threatened.

July 4 is also a holiday, and a time to celebrate. But this year, there is a serious problem that obligates revelers to be especially careful with fireworks. The cities of White Salmon and Bingen have both had well failures in recent days, and water conservation measures have been in effect in both cities. If a large fire gets started due to the careless use of fireworks, there may not be an adequate supply of water to fight it. That could magnify the consequences severely.

Remember too that the city of Bingen has an outright ban on the use of fireworks within the city limits. This ban will be strictly enforced.

In White Salmon, Mayor David Poucher is reminding citizens that anyone being reckless with fireworks and sparking a fire will be held accountable, and prosecuted to the best of the city's ability. Poucher is not making idle threats here; there is a real potential for danger.

The clear message: Should there be a fire started, whether from legal or illegal fireworks, the person or persons responsible will be prosecuted. And parents are legally responsible for the actions of their children. State law has provisions for "reckless burning," and civil penalties could be overwhelming.

"A neighbor can come after you for all the damages if you cause a fire that burns his property," explained Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending. "If it's a large fire, you'd also be responsible for the firefighters' wages, and to pay for all the equipment used. The potential civil liability is huge to that person or family who causes a fire, and it's just not worth it."

Fines and jail time are also possible outcomes of careless use of fireworks.

The bottom line: This year in particular, don't take any foolish chances with fireworks, given the potential lack of water to battle blazes.

No one is asking people to give up fireworks, but be judicious. The best local option is to head down to the Port of Klickitat's Bingen Point property on July 4. It's a large area and there is plenty of parking space. Firefighters and a fire truck will be stationed in the area, so if a blaze gets going it can be quickly contained. Further, the ground will be wet down in advance to help minimize danger. And the site is also a good place to watch the city of Hood River's evening fireworks display.

In short, the Bingen Point area is a designated area where, each year, legal fireworks can be used virtually without risking a fire. A lot of people celebrate there. It's a festive atmosphere, and even if you don't have fireworks of your own, there will be a lot to see and hear all around the site.

July is generally a very dry month, and it's fairly common for firefighters to be busy on the July 4 holiday. But this year there is a sharper edge to the danger due to the water situation, and we all need to be extra careful with fireworks.

Don't let it be you winding up in court and facing a devastating civil penalty.



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