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Fireworks doused on public property - City to enforce fireworks ban in parks, playgrounds

By Ruth Longoria

Don't even think about lighting a firecracker or fountain in an Island park, school grounds or even parking lots on July 4. In fact, even snakes and sparklers are off-limits in public places during this year's Independence Day observance. According to the city, there's a $500 civil penalty for each violation of the fireworks law. And, despite what some complain was a lax attitude in the past, this year, there's going to be strict enforcement, officials say.

In anticipation of holiday celebrations, Island law enforcement and city workers are banding together to prevent any fireworks use anywhere -- other than on private property -- on the Island.

``There will be an increased awareness and enforcement on July 4th and hopefully the education will help a lot,'' said Fire Commander Walt Mauldin.

In addition to adding more police and bicycle patrols (there will be 10 officers on duty between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4) expect to see a lot more signs posted in parks and other places around town, to let folks know that fireworks aren't allowed.

Although the Island's ban on fireworks in public places isn't new, the increased enforcement is a last-ditch effort by some who'd like to see fireworks remain legal on private Island property. Fireworks are currently legal only on private property and only between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4. Several Islanders, including Mauldin and Mayor Alan Merkle, would like to see the pyro-technic devices banned across the Island. After an impassioned debate at the June 6 council meeting, involving testimony from several homeowners on both sides of the fireworks fence, Merkle was the only City Council member to vote against continued use of fireworks on private property.

The stepped-up enforcement on the holiday is expected to alleviate some concerns, but Mauldin hopes it's enough to prevent wildfires and fireworks-related housefires on the Island. ``

``This should help, but it doesn't go all the way to make me comfortable,'' Mauldin said. ``Only a ban would do that.''

Statistics show there's an advantage to banning fireworks. Seattle banned fireworks in 1992 and went from an average of 51 fireworks related injuries, 143 fires and $72,236 in property damage loss to, in 1993, five injures, 34 fires and $6,100 property loss. Other communities that banned fireworks experienced similar results, according to fire department statistics.

There's been talk at council meetings for the past 13 years concerning banning fireworks on the Island. In 1992, the number of days fireworks could be set off was reduced from nine to two, and in 1994, after a survey showed 55 percent of the Island supported a ban of fireworks, they were reduced to being legal for one day -- July 4. Then, in 1999, the council rejected another plan to ban fireworks.

Mercer Island is one of the few cities in King County that allows ``consumer fireworks,'' also known as the ``safe and sane'' variety. A few cities allow public displays, and Bothell allows discharge on July 4 only (similar to Mercer Island's laws) but, for the most part, one-by-one cities have decided the risk outweighs the perceived patriotism and fun. This will be the first year that the city of Renton has banned fireworks. And, although it might seem a bit extreme to receive a $500 fine for setting off a sparkler on public Island property, some northwest cities have higher penalties. In Auburn, there's a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail for misdemeanor fireworks violations.

Fireworks can be purchased on the Island at the Kiwanis Club's annual fund-raiser fireworks stand at the Rite-Aid parking lot. Kiwanis sells its fireworks from June 28 through July 4. Kiwanis has been selling fireworks on the Island for the past 35 years. In working with the city's educational method of prevention, this year at the fireworks stand, Kiwanis members will hand out flyers letting folks know that it's only legal to set off fireworks on private property during the 12-hour period July 4.

The Island's traditional public fireworks display will be on Friday, July 8, and is visible from the Lid Park.

Sidebar: Fireworks on the Island

According to the city's municipal code, it's legal to:

? Buy safe and sane/consumer fireworks, whether off the Island or from the Island Kiwanis Club stand, which is set up in the Rite Aid parking lot.

? Set off consumer fireworks on your Island property between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. July 4.

? Watch the Island's organized public display of fireworks Friday, July 8, which will be set off from the barge off Faben Point and visible over Lake Washington near the Lid Park area.

However, it is illegal -- and there's a $500 fine per violation if you:

? Set off fireworks of any kind in Island parks, school yards or other public property.

? Set off fireworks at any time other than between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4.

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