Don't fret if you can't light up a Roman candle or sparkler this Fourth of July in your town. They may be legal an earshot away. Unincorporated areas of King...

Share story

Don’t fret if you can’t light up a Roman candle or sparkler this Fourth of July in your town.

They may be legal an earshot away.

Unincorporated areas of King and Snohomish counties allow certain kinds of fireworks on July 4 only. But cities in the two counties enforce a hodgepodge of rules, restrictions and outright bans.

For example, Tukwila outlaws all fireworks. But its neighbor, SeaTac, allows so-called “safe-and-sane” fireworks on July 4 only. In nearby Normandy Park, fireworks season started on Tuesday.

On Indian reservations, such as the Muckleshoot and Tulalip reservations, consumers can buy an arsenal of fireworks to celebrate Independence Day: mortars, rockets, missiles, mines, exploding tanks and even a fiery sword of Excalibur.

Firefighting and emergency-medical services would like to simplify things and make the holiday safer by limiting fireworks to the professional community displays that attract tens of thousands of spectators each Fourth of July.

Every year, amateur pyrotechnicians are blamed for a rash of fires and injuries linked to fireworks. Last year, these fires caused more than $950,000 in damages statewide, the state fire marshal’s office said.

What’s safe-and-sane?


Safe-and-sane is a commonly used term for small, state and federally approved fireworks, officially known as 1.4G explosives or consumer fireworks. Generally, these fireworks don’t go up or blow up. They include sparklers, torches, cone fountains, mines/shells and Roman candles.

Sources: Washington State Fire Marshal, King and Snohomish counties’ Fire Marshal offices, Consumer Product Safety Commission

On Monday, fireworks were blamed for two fires in Vancouver, Wash., that caused $225,000 in damage to an apartment and scorched seven acres of land.

Each Fourth of July, Harborview Medical Center in Seattle sees from 10 to 20 people injured by fireworks, said Chris Martin, administrative director of emergency services.

Most of the cases — blast injuries, lost hands and fingers, second- and third-degree burns and eye injuries — are caused by drunken adults or unattended children, she said.

The notion of safe fireworks is absurd, Martin said.

“People don’t realize sparklers burn at 1,000 degrees. It’s like handing your 5-year-old a torch,” she said. “There is really no such thing as ‘safe-and-sane.’ Just leave it to the professionals.”

In an effort to reduce injuries and damage, King County officials are working to ban fireworks in unincorporated areas.

Vendors are fighting back, saying the prohibition would violate their freedoms and merely send buyers to local Indian reservations, where more-powerful fireworks are sold.

Where fireworks are legal

In unincorporated King County, state-approved fireworks are allowed on July 4 from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Fireworks are banned in these King County cities: Bellevue, Burien, Carnation, Clyde Hill, Federal Way, Hunts Point, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, Medina, Redmond, Renton, Seattle, Shoreline, Tukwila, Woodinville and Yarrow Point.

These cities allow legal fireworks on a restricted basis on July 4: Auburn, Black Diamond, Bothell, Covington, Des Moines, Duvall, Enumclaw, Kent, Maple Valley, Mercer Island, Newcastle, North Bend, Pacific, Sammamish, SeaTac, Skykomish and Snoqualmie.

Normandy Park allows legal fireworks from June 28 to July 4.

In unincorporated Snohomish County, legal fireworks are allowed on July 4 from 9 a.m. to midnight.

These Snohomish County cities ban fireworks: Edmonds, Everett, Gold Bar, Index, Mill Creek, Woodway and Mukilteo.

These cities allow legal fireworks on a restricted basis on July 4: Arlington, Bothell, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Sultan.

Marysville and Snohomish allow legal fireworks from July 1 to July 4.

Darrington and Granite Falls allow legal fireworks at certain hours from June 28 to July 5, and on New Year’s Eve.

Sources: Fire marshal offices of King and Snohomish counties, local police departments

In April, King County’s fire chiefs and fire commissioners associations asked the county Department of Developmental and Environmental Services for an emergency ban.

But department director Stephanie Warden said her office had no legal grounds to issue such a ban. Furthermore, state law would delay any ban’s enforcement for a year, she said.

Instead, Warden’s office will establish a task force to look into such laws. The task force would work with nonprofit organizations authorized to sell fireworks to find alternative ways for them to raise money, she said.

Paul Peretti, a counselor at Juanita High School in Kirkland, said the school’s senior class is operating a fireworks stand in unincorporated King County to raise money for next year’s prom. He said he didn’t know what they would do if fireworks were banned.

“You can only sell so many cookies and do so many car washes,” Peretti said. “It really helps support the kids’ activities. The money goes right to the kids.”

Each year, the high school’s fireworks stand brings in several thousand dollars, Peretti said.

King County Fire Marshal Jim Rankin supports the ban, saying it would reduce property damage and save lives.

Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick agreed. The department has answered far fewer fireworks-related calls since the city banned fireworks in 1993, she said.

The Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office isn’t pushing for a ban, said Lori Taylor, the office’s permit coordinator. The fireworks season for unincorporated Snohomish County is already limited to just July 4.

Fireworks lobbyist Jerry Farley said the bans would do nothing to keep people from buying fireworks on the reservations and would only hurt nonprofit groups that rely on them for fund-raisers.

“It’s offensive to the principles of America,” said Farley, who represents the Washington Independence Day Association, a non-Indian fireworks group. “We’ve celebrated our freedom with fireworks since the time of John Adams, and we’re still celebrating with them today.”

On the way to the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, a large sign declares that any fireworks that “go up or blow up” are illegal.

But earlier this week on the reservation, a large rocket whistled into an overcast sky and exploded with a sharp bang. Another rocket followed soon after, accompanied by the quieter pop-pop-pop of firecrackers.

The tribes set their own fireworks laws, in accordance with federal regulations.

For Noreen Milne, fireworks commissioner for the Muckleshoot Tribe, the sounds keep safety foremost in her mind. She divides her time between patrolling the sales lot and the fireworks pit, where buyers can shoot off their purchases. She inspects each new stand while also running her own fireworks stand.

Milne reports few problems with the vendors or the buyers. Her relationship with Auburn police is cordial, she said, and officers come out regularly to help keep things orderly.

However, she said she can’t do anything if people take fireworks from the reservation into areas where they are illegal.

It’s up to the buyer, Milne said, to either use the fireworks on the reservation or somewhere else where they are allowed.

Victor Gonzales: 206-464-2393 or vgonzales@seattletimes.com