With hotter temperatures lately, a lot of dry grass, and a potential shortage of water to fight a blaze, local officials are warning residents to be especially careful with fireworks celebrations this year.
"With our wells in the current situation, it would be a pretty serious situation if we have a big fire," said Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel. "We have the reservoir capacity to fight it, but there is the potential that we would drain our capacity."
Bingen Fire Chief David Spratt pointed out that a statewide warning for high fire danger is currently in place.
"The grass is really dry, and the fuel is dry," Spratt said. "The grass got really tall because of all the rain, and now it's all dried out."
Spratt said the Bingen Fire Department would have between eight and 10 firefighters on duty on the Fourth of July.
"We'll be staging at the station, with everybody there and ready to go, and we'll be doing patrols as well," Spratt said.
Two years ago, the Bingen City Council passed an outright ban on use of fireworks within the city limits of Bingen. The ban applies to use on private property.
The city of White Salmon does not have a similar ban, but Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending said this is one year he'd like to see a ban in place.
"Due to the well failure and refill capacity at the reservoirs, it would be my suggestion that a fireworks ban be initiated city-wide for White Salmon," Brending said.
Highlighting the seriousness with which the city regards the danger, the White Salmon City Council had a discussion of a possible emergency fireworks ban on the agenda for its July 2 meeting.
Brending pointed out that anyone who starts a fire while using fireworks will be held liable, legally and financially.
"Reckless burning would probably apply as the charge," Brending said. "Even if you do fireworks on your own property, you assume liability risks if you start a fire that burns your neighbor's property. And with the property values just being revised, I don't think I'd want to pay for my neighbor's property right now."
Discharge of fireworks in a reckless manner is also a misdemeanor, with $500 tickets and jail time possible if use of fireworks endangers a person or property.
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said fires were "avoidable," and warned that city officials would take a hard line in going after anyone who causes a fire due to careless use of fireworks.
"Anybody who unfortunately starts a fire, we are going to do all we can to recoup the costs," Poucher said. "One major fire in the city right now could cause catastrophic events. We don't have the water."
Brending urged citizens to take advantage of a program sponsored by the Port of Klickitat to enjoy their fireworks. People are invited to go to Bingen Point on July 4, where a fire truck and firefighters will be stationed.
"We're joining with the Fire Department to urge people to go to the Port property and set off fireworks there. From a safety standpoint that's the best place to go," Brending said. "Don't take the risk of something bad happening. The potential civil liability in meeting the cost of damage is huge to that person or family. It's just not worth it."
Poucher said he loves setting off fireworks, but because of the water worries, he is going to change his ways this summer.
"I am the biggest fireworks fan in the world. I even go to the Indian fireworks stands," Poucher said. "I love it, but this year I'm going to forgo buying; I'm going to go to the Port and enjoy it there."
Tribal fireworks stands are operating in the community at this time of year, and most of what they sell are legal fireworks. However, the tribal stands usually sell bottle rockers and firecrackers, and those are illegal in the state of Washington.
"Once you travel off tribal land, you face arrest and a ticket," Brending explained. "It's a misdemeanor, with up to a $250 fine and possible jail time."
According to Brending, those who may have purchased illegal fireworks will have the opportunity to turn them over on their way in to Bingen Point, with no charges.
"It's illegal to possess or set off these type of fireworks. They will be seized and you will be cited if caught with them," Brending said.