Weather alert prompts fireworks ban in Salem on Fourth of July

UPDATE 2 p.m Tuesday, July 4: All fire agencies in Marion County have issued a joint burn ban immediately.

The Fourth of July is going to finish a little quieter than expected as Salem on Tuesday afternoon announced a ban on fireworks because of the fire risk.

“This ban is based on weather conditions and community safety,” the city said in a statement issued at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

That means most consumer fireworks aren’t allowed. The city’s big public show, however, is expected to continue at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

“City fire officials are urging the community to avoid engaging in any activities that could potentially start fires and to celebrate the Fourth of July without creating a safety risk to your family, neighbors, or the community,” the city statement said.

The city also instituted a burn ban, prohibiting use of backyard fire pits and portable fireplaces. Cooking with propane remains legal.

City officials acted in the face of a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service through 11 p.m. Wednesday, July 5. The weather service forecast temperatures from 95 to 100 with low humidity and wind gusts to 30 mph.

“Conditions may be favorable for rapid spread on any new or existing fires. Extreme fire behavior is possible, especially from established fires,” the weather service warning said.

The agency forecast a “quick cool down” starting Thursday, with high temperatures in the mid 80s.

The fireworks ban makes it illegal to use certain retail goods such as fountains, ground spinners and flitter sparklers, according to the Oregon state fire marshal website. City officials said the Salem ban covers wire sparklers since they can ignite a fire.

The state fire marshal website notes that using prohibited fireworks is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and a civil penalty of up to $500.

The city statement also noted that violators “may be liable for the cost of extinguishment and any property damage resulting from an illegal fire.”

The Salem Fire Department already is investigating three fires that may have been caused by fireworks, according to Trevor Smith, a Salem city spokesman.

City and state officials urged citizens to not call 911 to report illegal fireworks unless there is a  life-threatening circumstance or a fire.

Reports of Salem infractions otherwise can be reported to the Salem Fire Department at 503-588-6111, extension 1, or the Salem Police Department at 503-588-6123.

In their joint statement Tuesday afternoon, Marion County fire agencies declared “an immediate and comprehensive ban on all burning activities.”

“This decision was not made lightly, but out of a necessity to protect our community and the environment,” the statement said. “We understand that this restriction may cause some inconvenience, but we firmly believe that the safety of our community must take precedence. We kindly request everyone’s cooperation in adhering to this ban to help minimize the potential risks. Please be aware that violations of these restrictions may result in substantial fines and potential legal repercussions.”

“All professional fireworks displays planned within the Salem community will continue as scheduled,” the Salem city statement said.

That includes the finale to Salem’s 4th of July Spectacular with a fireworks show that starts at 10 p.m. The show is free though parking at the fairgrounds is $10-$20.

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.