The Banks Fire District offices in Banks in 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley
Independence Day, the United States' most explosive holiday, is falling less than a week after this part of Oregon experienced a deadly heat wave, and more dry, hot weather in the forecast offers little relief to tamp down fire risk.
According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, at least 63 deaths in Oregon — 5 of them in Washington County — are believed to have been caused by the heat wave. The medical examiner said that the deaths were still being investigated and that final causes of death had not yet been determined.
In the wake of the 2020 Labor Day Fires — the state’s most devastating fire season — and the current fire danger, fire officials almost everywhere are asking local residents to skip the fireworks this year and head to a professional display instead.
“With record-breaking weather and drought conditions, Banks Fire District #13 is joining our neighboring departments in urging people to NOT USE personal fireworks in their celebrations this year,” Banks Fire District spokesperson Scott Adams said in a statement.
“A Rural Fire Protection District, such as Banks Fire, is specifically prohibited by State Law from banning fireworks (See ORS 480.160(4)(c)). Instead we suggest you consider attending a professional show or watching an event on television,” he suggested.
The annual Banks fireworks show, sponsored by the city, the speedway, and local businesses at Sunset Speedway is still on, the city said.
The show is expected to begin around 10 p.m. following the final race of the night.
"Banks Fire will have a crew and apparatus standing by as usual when the fireworks are set off," said Banks Fire District spokesperson Mitch Ward in a message to the Banks Post.
While neighboring Forest Grove voted Wednesday evening to ban fireworks within their city limits, Banks will not.
“We are following the Banks Fire [District] recommendations,” said Banks’ mayor, Stephanie Jones, in an email to the Banks Post. “They have a larger service area and are the experts.”
In a message sent Thursday morning from city of Banks City Recorder Angie Lanter, the city urged residents to avoid fireworks as well.
“The City of Banks is asking all residents to respect the wishes of the Banks Fire District discouraging personal fireworks, their job IS our safety,” the notice said. “Save your fireworks until after we have had a few days of rain. The professional fireworks show at Sunset Speedway will happen July 4th as all precautions regarding fire safety are being observed.”
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, which covers much of the county and elsewhere, including parts of Roy and Mountaindale, urged residents to avoid personal fire fireworks as well.
“This is normally the busiest time of year for emergency responders and dispatchers without record temperatures, and the heat has proven difficult for the most vulnerable in our communities. Only call 911 to report emergencies,” TVF&R said in a press release.
On Wednesday, June 30, the Washington County Board of Commissioners urged county residents to forego fireworks.
“We understand that Independence Day has special meaning to many people this year as we finally emerge from statewide COVID restrictions,” said Chair Kathryn Harrington. “What we’re asking is that everyone consider the great harm and suffering that could occur with even one unintentional fire caused by fireworks during this holiday season. The risk is just too great and we’re pleading with people to consider other ways of celebrating like a backyard gathering, trip to Hagg Lake or even attending a professional fireworks display that has been permitted for safety.”
For those who will use fireworks regardless of what firefighters and elected officials say, follow some simple safety guidelines.
“General safety tips for personal use of fireworks are to always use fireworks outside with a bucket of water or hose nearby. Keep fireworks away from dry leaves and other materials that can easily catch on fire. Light one firework at a time. Keep the firework you're lighting well away from unlit fireworks,” said Banks Fire District spokesperson Mitch Ward in a message to the Banks Post.
Ward also pointed readers of this newspaper to an online resource for more firework safety tips.
This story has been updated with firework safety tips.