Fourth of July fireworks, Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, July 4, 2017.

Fourth of July fireworks, Portland, Oregon, in 2017.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Firework-related injuries and deaths spiked during the pandemic. So authorities in the Pacific Northwest are asking people to be more careful this Fourth of July.

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The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found a 50% increase in deaths and injuries from fireworks during the pandemic. The injuries came as many municipalities canceled July 4 public displays, prompting some people to celebrate at home, where fireworks can be more dangerous.

Firework regulations vary from city to city. Portland is one of Oregon’s more restrictive jurisdictions. It banned all fireworks last year, from bottle rockets to sparklers.

Portland Fire Bureau spokesperson Laurent Picard said the ban resulted in a drop of firework-caused blazes from 44 to 15, over what amounts to the two-week peak firework season.

“Overall we’re very pleased and encouraged that Portlanders abided by the ban,” Picard said. “Fires were markedly decreased.”

Portland leaders are asking people not to call 911 just because they hear or see a firework.

“We need to keep the 911 system open for actual fires and actual medical emergencies,” Picard said. ”Now if somebody is injured from a firework, or an actual fire is witnessed from a firework, absolutely call 911.”

In 2017, a single firework led to the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned over 48,000 acres of forest along the Columbia River Gorge.

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Other cities have more permissive firework regulations. Bandon, for example, permits sparklers but still bans bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers.

The Bandon Fire Department said a good rule of thumb is: if a firework flies or explodes, it’s more tightly regulated. Fines for illegal fireworks in Bandon can reach $750.

Authorities tend to restrict flying and exploding fireworks because they can more easily cause fires and injuries.

Clark County, Washington, officials said the improper disposal of fireworks puts waste workers at increased risk. They’re asking residents to sweep up and dispose of fireworks debris, as required by local laws. Authorities say fireworks should not be placed in recycling bins; put them in water overnight, then in the trash.

Authorities say unused fireworks are explosives and should be taken to the appropriate drop-off site, like the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office or the Vancouver Police Department.

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue is urging people to be more aware of how fireworks affect veterans and pets.

“Fireworks produce sounds similar to gunshots, which can cause physical and mental distress to those who have experienced combat,” the department said a statement.

“Fireworks can also frighten pets and farm animals as they don’t understand what’s happening. Try to limit the quantity and length of time fireworks will be set off.”

Firework Dos and Don’ts

(Courtesy of Portland Fire Bureau, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Clark County, Washington)

  • Understand local regulations. Laws can differ depending on where you live, so make sure you are aware of what is legal in your city and county.
  • Don’t relight fireworks. If a firework doesn’t fire after lighting, don’t try to light it again. Have a bucket of water handy. Wait five minutes, then put the failed firework in the water to make sure it’s not smoldering.
  • Supervise children. Kids can get very excited by fireworks. But remember, even safe fireworks, like sparklers, can be dangerous. Embers on the ground can cause injuries. Make sure kids wear shoes outside.
  • Limit the size of home fireworks. Large canned fireworks are not suitable for home use.
  • Don’t hold and light a firework. Fireworks can go off before expected and cause severe burns.
  • Don’t use fireworks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Only adults should light or handle fireworks.
  • Location is important. Keep fireworks away from buildings, vehicles, and vegetation.

About 40% of firework injuries involve hands or fingers, specifically from people holding and lighting the firework. Most ER firework visits involve children and young adults. Injuries can involve everything from partial amputations to blindness.

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