A bill proposed in Salem would stiffen penalties for violating fireworks laws and offer rewards to tipsters who turn in their neighbors.
The proposed law, sponsored by Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, would assess a civil penalty for illegal fireworks of no less than $500, and with a maximum of $5,000, and would pay tipsters the first $500 collected from the civil penalty. The current maximum fine is $500.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said the public seems to want stricter fireworks laws.
“When I’m approached by citizens, it’s one of their greatest concerns,” Porter said. “And their fears are justified.”
Each year more than one-third of the approximately 75 calls to police in Bend on the Fourth of July involve illegal fireworks. Fireworks calls typically begin a few days before the Fourth of July holiday and extend a few days after.
Oregon law forbids fireworks that fly, explode or travel more than 6 feet on the ground and 12 inches in the air. This includes popular items such as Roman candles, sky lanterns and bottle rockets.
In Bend, possessing illegal fireworks is often treated as a violation, and offenders aren’t arrested. Typically, responding officers will ask people to hand over the offending fireworks in exchange for not being ticketed, Porter said.
Last Fourth of July in Bend, a fire started by an illegal firework burned a large scar into the base of Pilot Butte and interrupted traffic and business around Bend on the busy holiday. The man who lit the firework, Alan Joseph Stout, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution.
The High Desert climate is highly susceptible to wildfires, especially in hot and dry early July.
“This ecosystem is fire-dependent; the fuels, and that includes houses, are receptive to ignition,” said Dave Howe, Bend Fire battalion chief.
Legal fireworks may only be purchased by adults over 18 from Oregon permitted retailers. Fireworks go on sale in Oregon each year on June 23, and fireworks purchased legally in another state are not necessarily legal in Oregon.
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