Ashland's fireworks ban gets first real test

ASHLAND — The first real test of the city's new fireworks ban is fast approaching with Independence Day coming up and fireworks on sale in tents outside of town.

"It's really up to our citizens to accept the ordinance," Ashland Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman said.

The Ashland City Council passed an ordinance in October 2009 banning the use of personal fireworks in the city. Before that, fireworks were allowed outside of fire season — which usually runs from late May through late October — and for a two-week period around the Fourth of July. The council had for years grappled with similar bans, but until now, tradition had trumped fire safety when it came to celebrating the nation's birthday.

"The people who are on the council change," Hickman said. "That was probably the main difference this time around." Fire Chief John Karns, hired in 2009 after former Chief Keith Woodley retired, brought the idea of a ban to the council after seeing some fireworks incidents nearly get out of control his first season here.

"Last year one of the things that inspired the chief to propose the ban was when fireworks that were thrown in the air landed in a roof gutter and started debris smoking," Hickman said. "If it had gone undetected it easily could have started a fire on the house. That could have spread to the forest.

"We're looking at a handful of fires started by fireworks every year," she said. "All it takes is one of those to get out of control. Each year we see burnt shrubs and burnt grass from fireworks."

With the late-season rains Southern Oregon has been experiencing this year, fire season has not yet started, which is not the norm, Hickman said.

July 1, 1998, is the latest date fire season has started, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. April 18, 1988, saw the earliest start date for fire season since ODF started keeping track in 1967.

"This year we're a little late," Hickman said. "We're hoping that people who've lived here a while will recognize we're entering the time of year when fire danger is increasing." Realizing that not all residents may be aware of the ban this year, Ashland Fire & Rescue is working on a public education campaign, which includes putting up posters in areas where people have traditionally gathered to shoot off fireworks around town and have even gone door-to-door in some of the areas most active on July 4.

One of those areas has been Bridge Street, which firefighters recently canvassed to get the word out.

People's reactions have varied, according to Hickman.

"It's a mixed bag," she said. "There are people who support it 100 percent, people who aren't liking it but will abide, and others — a handful — who are not going to heed it."

The ban is in place for retail fireworks, but four kinds of devices are still allowed: wire-cored sparklers, smoke bombs, snakes and party poppers. But even some of these can cause trouble if not handled correctly.

"I've investigated fires with wire-cored sparklers," Hickman said. "Anytime you have a heat source, fire is a potential."

The Fire Department over the next weeks also will hit Southern Oregon University and local school grounds with posters explaining the ban.

People who want to celebrate Independence Day with a boom are encouraged to attend the public fireworks display sponsored by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

"I've been doing this for 20 years," Hickman said. "For 20 years we've been encouraging people to go to the public fireworks display because it's safer."

The Chamber of Commerce display takes place at the SOU athletic field, and is visible from nearly the entire city. It starts at 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

The Fourth is a busy day for firefighters and police because of the large numbers of people who come to town, so, outside of a few high-use areas, there are not likely to be officials going around looking for fireworks ban violators.

"We will probably be pretty busy with calls so we won't likely be patrolling," Hickman said. "If people follow the ordinance, that will really help us out."

For details on Fourth of July events, see

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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