‘Tis the season for burnt fingers and grass fires.
Fireworks on the Fourth of July have been an American tradition since July 4, 1777 when rebellious Colonists still at war with Great Britain used them to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The tradition calls for some caution, however.
While many fireworks accidents end with only minor damage, there have been tragedies in the region. Two years ago a pair of families in Hermiston lost their home after a duplex on Northeast 13th Street burned down in a grass fire that witnesses said was likely started by children who had been playing with fireworks nearby. And in 2015 a 25-year-old Pendleton man lost his life in an explosion believed to be caused by homemade fireworks.
Lesley Phillips, who sells Black Cat fireworks out of a big white tent in the Fiesta Foods parking lot each summer, said she tries to educate customers about ways to keep their celebration from turning into a 911 call.
“Safety is a very big key,” she said.
She recommends that people use a hollow concrete block to stabilize fountain-type fireworks and keep them from blowing over the the wind. She also recommended people mow, trim and weedwhack away flammable materials around their property before the sparks fly. All sparklers and other hot items should be dropped into a bucket of water, she said, and a hose or other water source should be kept at the ready.
“It’s lots of common sense, basically,” she said.
Phillips said one of the most common fireworks-related injuries comes from children who grab the hot end of a sparkler after it goes out. While no one under 16 is allowed to purchase fireworks in Oregon, she said she tries to instill the idea of safety into minors who come in with their parents.
Sometime last Friday or Saturday, the track and turf on Kennison Stadium experienced firework damage, according to the Hermiston School District.
A vandalism report was filed, citing minor damages. According to the report, which was filed with Hermiston Police Department, the district will be reviewing security cameras for information about who was responsible.
Maria Duron, Communications Officer with HSD, said a press release will be issued when HSD has more information on the event.
“I have no idea why someone would think that was a good idea,” said HPD Chief Jason Edmiston. “There’s nothing to indicate it was intentional but [it was] definitely reckless.”
Edmiston said that lighting illegal fireworks is a Class B Misdemeanor, but additional violations or charges can be tacked on if the fireworks are not being used how they are intended to be.
“If we do have a fire that is started with illegal fireworks, those folks will be responsible for the suppression costs,” said Umatilla County Fire District 1 Fire Marshall Scott Goff.
The fire district will be following the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s recommendation of the “Four B’s” of firework safety: be prepared, be safe, be responsible and be aware.
Goff said it’s important to remember to make sure all children are being supervised while handling fireworks, and to always have a hose or bucket of water handy. Tall grass and windy conditions should be avoided, and pets should be kept somewhere away from the fireworks.
Officers from the HPD and firefighters from UCFD1 will both be present during the Fourth of July Stars and Stripes celebration at the Hermiston Butte.
Goff said that UCFD1 plans to increase their staffing for the evening of July 4.
In June, UCFD1 set the Hermiston Butte alight during a controlled burn. In past years, they’ve burnt the north side of the butte. But this year, both the north and south sides were subject to the burn.
“We’ve burnt the south area off, so we’re hoping by doing that we’ll minimize any fires from the fallout of the public display,” Goff said.
Edmiston reminded attendees to be mindful on their way home. To keep traffic moving around Butte Park on the holiday, only right turns will be allowed out of parking areas.
“Give yourself plenty of time to get home, be aware of people walking on the streets. It’s going to be dark at that time and Elm can be busy and very chaotic,” Edmiston said.