WEST RICHLAND — About eight hours before 75 residents crammed into a West Richland City Council meeting Tuesday to discuss whether to revise the city's fireworks law, a teenager setting off fireworks started a fire that threatened six homes.
The morning fire on Kennedy Road at Candy Mountain Avenue was quickly contained, but it underscored the point made by many who attended Tuesday night's meeting: fireworks can be dangerous, and perhaps the city should consider revising its fireworks ordinance.
Tuesday's discussion on the topic went on for two hours, with the council finally deciding to take up at a future council workshop whether to leave the fireworks ordinance as is, limit the type, times and days fireworks are legal to sell and discharge, or ban them all together.
Councilmen Ken Dobbin and Richard Bloom voted against holding yet another workshop on the issue, saying it has been discussed and the council needs to vote.
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Mayor Donna Noski said the city began getting calls and emails right after the Independence Day holiday.
"If people don't want them banned, they want them severely restricted. They're all very frustrated with the whole issue of fireworks in the city," she said.
"Even if banned, it's very difficult to enforce," she said. "When they're flying through the air, you can't tell where they came from."
Brian Santos told the council that in recent years his neighborhood resembles "a war zone. We literally fear to leave our home because it might not be there when we come back."
The fireworks being exploded are loud enough to rattle windows and don't always go off high above ground, he said.
"I had one go off about 10 or 12 feet above my head. It scared me to death," he said.
Also in attendance at the meeting was a yellow Labrador named Spey, who was representing all the pets, livestock and other animals terrorized by the noisy annual displays of pyrotechnics, said owner Dick Watts.
"He shakes and tried to find a place where there's no noise," he said. "He can run but not hide."
Others had similar stories to tell. One woman told of how one aerial rocket knocked a male quail off her fence, with a second raining burning embers down onto the female as she tried to protect her brood.
Not everyone at the meeting wanted to see fireworks banned though. Most were in favor of limiting the number of days and hours fireworks can be discharged and the type.
"I'd like to see a compromise, a return to safe and sane fireworks," said Byron Robertson. "I like fireworks on the Fourth. I just don't like what's happening now. It's turned into a free-for-all."
Kay Miller, who moved to West Richland from Phoenix in September, admits she loves fireworks but the ones she endured over the Fourth were "too loud and went on for too many days. I'm from South Carolina where we love our fireworks, but we did them on the Fourth and just for three or four hours."
Many who spoke to the council were concerned about the real threat of fire. On July 3-4, firefighters in West Richland responded to eight fireworks-related incidents.
"Three were caused by people tossing firecrackers out car windows," said Benton Fire District 4 Capt. Ed Dunbar, the district's acting chief.
The two largest -- 75 acres on Flat Top Hill and 120 acres off Ruppert Road -- cost nearly $11,000 to control and put out. About a dozen homes and six businesses were threatened in the Flat Top Hill fire.
"Those were paid for by your taxes," he said.
In May, the council passed an ordinance amendment to shorten the length of time people could shoot them off by three days, Noski said.
Even so, West Richland has the most lenient fireworks laws in the region. The law allows fireworks to be discharged from June 28 through July 5 during specific hours, generally 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and until midnight on July 4. It also states you must be at least 16 years old to possess them, unless directly supervised by an adult.
West Richland police cited the 15-year-old responsible for the Tuesday morning fire on Candy Mountain Avenue. He was too young to possess them, and "it was 14 days past the cutoff," said West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy. The boy was cited and released to his parents.
Council members said they will consider the comments made at Tuesday's meeting and any additional comments from the public. To contact the council, go to www.westrichland.org/CityCouncil.cfm for a list of their email addresses.