by Elizabeth Turnbull
In years past, Skyway has been a place for residents of Renton and Seattle to skirt firework bans and to set off fireworks for July 4. To combat this, King County officials are implementing a three-year plan to crack down on fireworks in the area and in other unincorporated places.
“What was happening in Skyway is that because all of the neighboring cities have already banned fireworks, it was creating a funneling effect where everybody was coming to this city or this neighborhood to blow off their fireworks,” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay told the Emerald. “They believed all fireworks are legal even though that’s not the case.”
Explosives such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, sky rockets, and missiles are banned for consumer use in Washington State as a whole, except in tribal lands. Display fireworks are also illegal for consumer use countywide.
While major cities such as Seattle have banned fireworks, in Skyway and other unincorporated areas some fireworks have remained legal. While only a limited assortment of fireworks are permitted in Skyway, some celebrators have interpreted this nuance as license to blow off any fireworks at will, according to Girmay.
“When I talk to our fire department they’re telling me they prepare for the Fourth of July like as if they’re preparing for a large natural disaster,” Girmay said. “There are fires, people are hurting themselves, people are burning each other, people are burning down houses — of course usually all by accident but still very very dangerous, and so we needed to act.”
In 2019, a 70-year-old man in White Center died with his two dogs after a house fire started by fireworks.
Due to a law passed this April, consumer fireworks that are still considered legal under Washington State law — including sparklers, smoke devices, fountains, spinners, reloadable mortars, roman candles, and parachute fireworks — will be illegal to sell, possess, purchase, and discharge in King County’s unincorporated areas, including the Skyway-West Hill area, starting in 2022.
The only fireworks that will remain legal in unincorporated King County are “trick and novelty devices,” such as snappers or “Pop-Its” and party or confetti poppers.
For this year, consumer fireworks are still legal in King County unincorporated areas from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4 and for New Year’s Eve from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2022, and retail rules will remain the same. Beginning in 2022, the ban on fireworks in King County unincorporated areas will go into full effect but will not be enforced until 2023.
However, citing extremely dry conditions, the King County Fire Marshall has urged residents in unincorporated King County not to use fireworks this year, and has stressed safety and vigilance should people still decide to discharge them.
In the meantime, the King County Sheriff’s Office and the fire marshal will only issue warnings to violators. In addition, people who do not abide by the ban will be educated about future changes and serious enforcement later on.
Beginning in 2023, the legislation will be enforced and violations of the firework ban will be considered a misdemeanor. A report requested by the Council and set to be published by June 30, 2022, is supposed to outline an unarmed and non-police form of enforcement to avoid negative impacts to communities that the ban applies to.
While the ban and educational campaign preceding it are intended to transition Skyway out of its past status as a firework launch site for residents of surrounding areas, not all residents are convinced that the legislation will have its desired effect.
“I think the [educational efforts] will be effective in raising awareness about the law changes for our area,” said Jeremy Williams, a Skyway resident and member of the nonprofit West Hill Community Association. “But with the general understanding that fireworks enforcement is low-priority for already stretched-thin Sheriff’s offices and police departments, I don’t foresee awareness changing behavior much.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
📸 Featured Image: Fireworks Stand in Skyway. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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