The Richland Code Enforcement Board took a bold step recently when it decided to pursue the idea of banning personal fireworks within city limits.
Despite opposing voices from the Richland City Council — which has the final say on the matter — code enforcement officials voted to push for an all-out ban, and in the process, ignite a public conversation on the issue.
Fireworks have been illegal in Kennewick, Pasco and Franklin County for years, but Richland has allowed certain fireworks to be used every Fourth of July — specifically those that don’t leave the ground.
And while Richland’s prohibition on aerial fireworks is a wise restriction, it is often ignored.
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Short of an all-out ban, code officials are asking the city to step up enforcement of its existing fireworks laws, and to arrange a public forum to discuss the issue.
We have had a long history of encouraging Richland city officials to join its neighbors and make all personal fireworks illegal.
With professional shows on either side of the Columbia River, there is ample opportunity to enjoy Independence Day without annoying neighbors and risking burns or property damage.
However, Richland City Mayor Bob Thompson has repeatedly said that he is not interested in passing laws that cannot be enforced, and code enforcement officials have all but acknowledged that City Council members will not agree to ban personal fireworks. The tradition is too entrenched.
But the code enforcement board wants the issue discussed publicly anyway, and we agree.
There are many citizens in Richland who are tired of the noise, the trauma to their pets, rowdy neighbors and the mess.
Their views should not be easily dismissed.
In addition, fireworks can cause tragedy. Tri-City summers are hot and dry, and vacant lots easily can be turned into tinder.
Two years ago, Eastern Washington was going up in flames all around us. More than a million acres were burned across the state from June to September and an estimated 3,000 firefighters battled the blazes, with three losing their lives.
We understand that for many families, setting off fireworks in the driveway is a long, happy tradition. We also know that it would be a financial blow to those who sell personal fireworks, and that many charities rely on those sales.
We also understand that many people don’t want the government limiting how they spend their holiday.
But what about pet owners who have to watch their dogs shake with fear every Fourth of July because of the noise? Or families with babies trying to sleep? What about veterans who might be distressed with the constant bangs and pops in their neighborhoods?
There are strong opinions on both sides of the fireworks debate.
Code enforcement officials took this issue up on their own, without being asked by the city council to look into it.
That, in itself, is noteworthy. City Council members should keep an open mind and, at the very least, encourage a formal discussion on the issue.