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Fire marshals nervous as dry conditions and fireworks set to mix

Nine fireworks-related blazes in Lake Oswego last year caused $500,000 in damage

Local fire officials are warning Lake Oswego residents about an increased fire hazard this July 4 as Independence Day follows a period of intense, dry heat around Oregon.

Concerned about the increased fire hazard this season, Lake Oswego Deputy Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk said the fire department would be stepping up efforts to control illegal fireworks this year.

'This season is unlike the last couple years when we had some wet weather before the fourth,' Zoutendijk said.

'It's going to be a lot drier than in previous years,' he said. 'We're really concerned about these illegal fireworks that continue to be set off in Lake Oswego under the trees, in between the trees and in areas that have a lot of shake roofs.'

For the last six years, Lake Oswego firefighters have supplied two fire officials to patrol on July 4, during which they collect illegal fireworks from residents, typically aerials available for sale in Washington.

Accounting for this year's dry season, Zoutendijk said those patrols have more than doubled. Five firefighters will be patrolling Lake Oswego this July 4, with assistance from police.

Last year firefighters collected between $3,000 and $5,000 in illegal fireworks, all disposed of by the Portland Bomb Squad.

'If people do get caught they face up to a $250 citation,' Zoutendijk said.

But penalties are just a part of the problem, Zoutendijk said.

Fires caused $4.4 million in damage in Lake Oswego in 2005. Nine of those were started by fireworks, accounting for more than $500,000 in losses. In 2004, three Lake Oswego teens were arrested in connection with a fire that damaged a home on Glacier Lilly Street and injured four firefighters.

'They used illegal fireworks, set (them) off a street over in bottle rockets and they landed on the roof and set the house on fire,' said Zoutendijk.

The three teens arrested in the incident were charged with second-degree arson and were sent to a juvenile diversion program for fire-starters. Legal fireworks set off near a recycling bin also damaged a home on Alder Circle.

Zoutendijk said he remains concerned that local parents and children underestimate both the damage that fireworks can cause and the penalties that come with fires started by illegal fireworks. Any fire that causes more than $750 in damage is a felony. Altering a firework is also a felony, punishable by a $7,500 fine and up to five years in prison.

'Some people think it's just a legal firework but when you change things you don't know what they're going to do. They might not do anything and they might blow up a car,' he said.

Zoutendijk said parents should encourage children to enjoy the holiday legally, follow the law and take precautions to prevent a fire in dry conditions this holiday.

'Set off fireworks wisely. Set off legal fireworks. Those are the ones that only move six feet in either direction and don't go up in the air and don't explode,' Zoutendijk said. 'We recommend having people come to the lake and watch the show instead of having their own.'