Starting in 2022, fireworks will be illegal in unincorporated King County.
The ban, which prohibits the retail sale and use of consumer fireworks, was passed by King County Council in a 5-4 vote on Tuesday, April 27. Public firework displays will still be allowed with a permit from the fire marshal, according to the legislation.
Sponsored by King County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci, the legislation will ban all types of fireworks including sparklers and smoke bombs. State law requires a full year before such bans can take effect, but it will be in place before July 4, 2022.
“Personal safety, fire safety, and distress to people and pets are some of the good reasons many King County cities have adopted firework regulations,” Balducci said. “It just makes sense to expand these protections to our King County residents.”
This new ban will bring unincorporated communities in line with most other jurisdictions in King County to further avoid confusion around firework regulations, the staff report states. According to South King County Fire & Rescue, more than 77% of county residents already live within city limits that have an outright ban on fireworks.
Individuals and families can still enjoy fireworks safely by attending properly permitted, professional displays throughout the county.
State law sanctions the retail sale of consumer fireworks only from June 28 to July 4 and Dec. 27-31 of each year. Consumers are permitted to discharge fireworks from June 28 to July 5 and Dec. 31 to Jan. 1. The state allows cities and counties to adopt stricter guidelines, but any such regulations cannot take effect until one year after adoption.
Legal consumer fireworks for sale in Washington state include roman candles, reloadable mortars, parachutes, wheels, cone fountains, sparklers, smoke devices and aerial mine/shell tubes. Under state law, toy caps, party poppers and snap n' pops do not meet the threshold for consumer fireworks. Bottle rockets, sky rockets, missiles, and firecrackers are illegal to sell at retail or use in Washington state, except on tribal lands.
When discussing the legislation, council members pointed to fireworks-related incidents and tragedies across the state that have struck close to home.
“While there are plenty of good reasons to support a full ban on consumer fireworks, I am driven by the tragic loss of life and property in White Center in 2019,” McDermott said. “It is past time for King County to do what most cities and parks have already done. People in unincorporated King County deserve the same protections as those living in cities.”
As a result of fireworks, this house fire in unincorporated King County resulted in the death of a 70-year-old man and his dogs, and the displacement of 12 residents in the neighboring home. The Fourth of July blaze was ultimately ruled an accident.
Numerous wildfires have been triggered by fireworks around the state, including some that left people dead or injured. Others have caused millions of dollars in damage and costs to contain them. First responders, like fire commissioners and marshals, have made it clear that fireworks present a clear public risk and public health hazard for the entire region, according to the staff report.
The fireworks ban was amended to reduce fines for violations to $250, delay enforcement of penalties for one year, and require an educational campaign about the new law. In the meantime, county departments will plan for enforcement strategies that involve “immediate, unarmed, non-police responses” for potential violations.
Council members opposed to the measure raised concerns that the ban would criminalize something typically associated with younger people. Councilmember Rod Dembowski said he worries about potentially increasing the interaction between youth and law enforcement.
Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who supported the ban, said the amended legislation ensures there’s a plan to find an alternative way to enforce the law outside of police intervention. He wants to create a system that “doesn’t increase interaction between youth, youth of color and police.”