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Portland bans firework sales citing fire danger

An OPB file photo of fireworks. Portland has banned the use and sale of fireworks during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.
Cheyenne Thorpe
An OPB file photo of fireworks. Portland has banned the use and sale of fireworks during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has issued a ban on the sale of fireworks effective immediately as record-breaking heat and bone-dry weather conditions increase the likelihood of a devastating wildfire.

“A decision like this doesn’t come easy but it’s imperative that we do all we can to ensure the everyone’s safety,” the mayor said in a statement. “This sales ban is another necessary measure to reduce threats posed by wildfires to the City and all who live here.”

The city had issued a ban on the use of fireworks Tuesday, but stopped short of a ban on sales.

Earlier this week, a group of prominent Portland fire officials - including Fire Chief Sara Boone and Community Safety Director Mike Myers, a former Portland fire chief - had said they supported a ban on the sale of fireworks to mitigate the risk of wildfire. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau, also said she supports a ban on firework sales in anticipation of the Fourth of July weekend.

But there appeared to be one holdout: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler — the sole city official with the power to rapidly implement such a ban.

Asked about a ban during a press conference Wednesday, the mayor said he had not yet had the chance to talk about a ban on sales and said he had not had the opportunity to confer with Commissioner Hardesty. He said the first he heard about a potential ban on sales was Wednesday morning.

“That conversation has not happened yet,” he said. “I also know there are some questions from our legal council as to whether or not at this point we would be in a position to be able to do that without being successfully sued for it. So there are conversations that are underway.”

Hours later, the city appeared to have resolved the legal questions. The mayor issued a state of emergency Wednesday, noting “ an imminent risk of fires starting within the region.” It remains in effect through noon on July 14.

Rich Chatman, who is serving a dual communication role for both the fire bureau and the new community safety office, said officials see it as a necessary way togive some teeth to the fireworks ban that the city issued Tuesday. The ban outlawed the use of fireworks, but stopped short of prohibiting sales.

“I think this sends a confusing message that, in our city, we have the fireworks legal to buy, not legal to use. This seems like an obvious next step to a fireworks ban is to ban the sale of fireworks,” Chatman said.

Hardesty, who said she has met with the mayor on Monday about issuing an emergency declaration, said in a tweet Tuesday thatshe consulted with the Portland city attorney as to whether she, as the commissioner in charge of the fire bureau, had the power to ban the sale of fireworks.

She said she was told she did not and that it would require an emergency declaration — a power only the mayor possesses.

Emergency declarations grant the mayor consolidated control and temporary powers, including prohibiting the sale of explosives, according to city code. The mayor has issued and extended these declarations repeatedly in the last 12 months, often in anticipation of major protests. He most recently did so April 20, in advance of a verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In a city statement announcing the sales ban, Hardesty said she was thankful the mayor was taking action and praised Boone for her advocacy. Boone said it was a necessary step to take during unprecedented conditions.

“I again want to stress that the current conditions have pushed fire danger to an extreme risk,” she said in a statement.

Early Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown issued a state of emergency due to the “imminent” threat of wildfire. The declaration paves the way for the state to take more extreme measures to respond to wildfire risks.

“I issued this emergency declaration to ensure every resource is made available for firefighting efforts and to the crews striving to protect our state,” the governor said in a statement.

Despiteurging from some, the governor’s order did not ban the sale of fireworks.

After diminished sales last year, fireworks retailers were hoping for a major rebound this holiday season with social distancing restrictions largely lifted. The American Pyrotechnics Association, the main trade group for the firework industry, wasbilling this season as a “summer of recovery” for the shuttered industry. James Fuller, a spokesperson with TNT fireworks, said they have around 150 distributors in the greater Portland area, and the average location takes home around $3,000.

Wheeler’s announcement makes Portland the second government in the region to ban sales. On Tuesday, citing “extreme fire danger,” Clark County, Washington, banned the sale of fireworks in the unincorporated area.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis