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Handle with extreme care

Demonstration shows just how quickly fireworks can spark a grass fire and how important it is to celebrate safely this weekend


TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jon Callahan, a firefighter with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, extinguishes a fire in a grassy field that was ignited by a firework to demonstrate how quickly a fire can spread at the TVF&R Regional Training center in Sherwood.Just how quickly a fireworks-ignited fire can accelerate and spread was brought home vividly last week during a demonstration at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue’s Training Center in rural Sherwood.

Oregon fire, public safety and other officials — including Lake Oswego Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk — gathered to drive home their “Keep it Legal and Keep it Safe” campaign, emphasizing the need to be careful with fireworks during Fourth of July celebrations.

The demnonstration was held on June 23, the first official day that fireworks could be purchased legally from authorized vendors in Oregon. Those sales continue through July 6.

To drive home the potential danger of all fireworks, Brent Griffiths, a compliance specialist with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, said there were more than 165 reported fireworks-related fires last year, along with 33 injuries. Surprisingly, wire sparklers, which reach temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees, were the cause of many of those injuries.

“We obviously urge people to use extreme caution when using sparklers as well as other fireworks,” Griffiths said.

He said the fire marshal’s office is encouraging everyone to observe the "Four B’s":

• Be prepared when lighting fireworks by keeping a garden hose or bucket nearby;

• Be safe when igniting fireworks by keeping children and pets away;

• Be responsible after lighting fireworks and never relight a “dud.” Wait for up to 20 minutes and then soak fireworks in a bucket of water; and

• Be aware by using only legal fireworks and using them only in legal places.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Members of the local media watch legal fireworks being set off at the TVF&R Regional Training center in Sherwood.Kate McKenney, a representative of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, said fireworks are prohibited in all state parks. They are also banned at all state and federal campgrounds and Oregon beaches.

Numerous legal fireworks were ignited during the demonstration to show how even those can quickly start a fire if not handled properly. Then, to drive home the point about how fast a fireworks-ignited fire can spread, a firefighter lit a Ground Bloom Flower (a popular spinning firework that jumps around on the ground while changing color) in dry grass at the training facility.

Within seconds, the grass ignited, rapidly burning a 10-foot-by-15-foot swath before being extinguished.

Cassandra Ulven, a spokeswoman with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, said that in the past, firefighters have teamed up with a variety of law enforcement agencies to patrol for illegal fireworks, something that’s expected to continue this year. In 2014, TVF&R staff accompanied Beaverton, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, Washington County and West Linn police officers and sheriff’s deputies in enforcing fireworks violations.

Ulven said all of the illegal fireworks that were collected were placed into a Dumpster-sized container, then ignited at the training center.

“We end up disposing of all the confiscated fireworks at the end of the season,” she said. “We have to warn all our neighbors because it’s so loud.”

In Lake Oswego, a city ordinance makes it illegal to sell, possess or use certain fireworks within city limits.Anything that explodes, ejects balls of fire, flies more than 12 inches into the air or travels more than six feet on the ground is illegal.

Possession of such items — including Roman candles, bottle rockets and firecrackers — can result in a presumptive fine of $295 or up to $500, according to LOPD Lt. Doug Treat.

A good rule to follow, Treat said: If you can’t buy it in Oregon, then it is probably illegal.

"With a hotter and dryer than normal year, fire danger is a real threat to property and persons," Treat said. "The Lake Oswego Police and Fire departments plan to enforce the ordinance this fireworks season, so please don’t put yourself in the position to cause injury, damage, fire or to receive a citation.

"We need your help this year more than ever," he said.

Reporter Gary M. Stein also contributed to this story. Contact Ray Pitz at 503-546-0731 or rpitz@commnewspapers.com.

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