Illegal fireworks are once again being blamed for Fourth of July injuries and property damage, this time leaving a 26-year-old man badly wounded, lighting at least two roofs on fire and, on Seattle’s Lake Union, sparking flames that destroyed 14 boats.
The Lake Union fire was Thursday’s most high-profile fireworks-related incident, causing $1.5?million in damage and property losses, according to Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore. The fire at Lake Union SkyLaunch Marina made for an alarming spectacle, with black smoke spewing high into the air just a half-hour before the Gas Works Park fireworks show.
Seattle Boat Co. CEO Alan Bohling said the fire started on the canvas cover of a boat stored in the marina’s metal “dry stack” structure. The damage could have been much worse, he said, if not for a quick response by marina employees and Seattle firefighters.
Seattle Police Department arson detectives were hoping for more tips on who may have lit the fireworks. Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said it’s uncertain at this point what kind of charges and penalties anyone could face, but the maximum penalty just for being caught using illegal fireworks in Seattle is a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.
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Despite July 4 being the Police Department’s most-staffed day of the year, Whitcomb said officers can’t respond to every call about illegal fireworks. Between Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday, he said the department received more than 2,000 calls for service, hundreds of which were fireworks-related.
“What we need are specific descriptions of people doing specific things,” Whitcomb said. “It’s not sufficient to say there’s fireworks in the sky and they’re landing over here.”
Fireworks are illegal in Seattle and many other Western Washington cities, including Bellevue and Tacoma. Health and public-safety officials urge residents to resist the urge to set off their own fireworks, but with an array of devices available nearby on tribal land and elsewhere — warnings inevitably go unheeded.
In the Windermere neighborhood in Northeast Seattle, fireworks lit two roofs on fire, Moore said. One residence sustained $1,000 damage, while $40,000 in damage was reported to the other structure.
Moore said no major injuries from fireworks were reported in Seattle, but at least 30 people with burns were admitted to Harborview Medical Center on Thursday and early Friday morning, said hospital spokesman Brian Donohue.
In an unincorporated area near Renton, a man suffered severe arm and leg injuries after igniting a homemade sparkler bomb early Thursday.
Sparkler bombs, which are made by wrapping several sparklers together, are illegal and considered improvised explosive devices by law enforcement.
Deputy Chief Greg Hartman of Renton fire said that later in the day only minor burn injuries were reported in the more than 100 fireworks-related calls his department received.
Firefighters responded to at least 12 brush fires and recovered one sparkler bomb before one of those fires could reach it.
In Pierce County, firefighters, police and deputies were also busy chasing down illegal fireworks use.
Police responded to 42 fireworks-related incidents in Puyallup, where $40,000 worth of fireworks was recently found stored in three garages in an apartment complex.
Illegal fireworks have become more dangerous in recent years, according to Puyallup Police Department spokesman Capt. Scott Engle.
“They’re bigger, much more powerful and designed to make a louder boom,” Engle said.
Booms scared some pets that bolted from homes and cars Thursday night, leaving owners frantically looking for them. A Seattle Animal Shelter employee said its phones were “ringing off the hook” all day Friday.
Moore said that before Thursday night’s marina fire, a worker at the marina told police about fireworks being illegally set off in the area.
The owner of a boat at the marina said that, before the fire, fireworks were being shot off on a hillside outside the marina.
“Some of the fireworks were pretty small, like sparklers, but some were big shells, and my wife said it looked like they were not all going out before they hit the ground,” said Matt Lewis, of Seattle, whose boat was not damaged.
Lewis was at the marina Thursday night to watch the Lake Union fireworks display with his wife and two daughters when they saw fireworks send sparks toward the boats and eventually ignite the vessels.
“They were a little too close for comfort,” he said.
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