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'It was like a war zone going on,': Fourth of July causes too many incidents for first responders

“Our crews were running constantly, almost 48 hours straight,” said Pat Riley, fire chief of the Northern Lakes Fire Protection District.
Credit: KREM 2
Consumer fireworks ban in place for Fourth of July holiday

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The heat was on for local first responders and law enforcement agencies this Independence Day weekend, as reported by our news partner the Coeur d'Alene Press.

“Our crews were running constantly, almost 48 hours straight,” said Pat Riley, fire chief of the Northern Lakes Fire Protection District.

Northern Lakes responded to 79 incidents over the holiday weekend.

“That is a dramatically higher number than we would run on an average of two days,” Riley said Tuesday.

It includes numerous medical and rescue calls — essentially, any call where nothing is on fire — as well as eight human-caused fires.

All the fires were caused by misuse of aerial fireworks, Riley said.

Though no significant property loss occurred, some fields and grasslands burned.

Riley noted that he’s seen fire activity this summer that would be more usual for late July or August.

“The fire behavior is really not typical for this time of year,” he said. “It’s extremely hot, extremely dry.”

Countywide, law enforcement issued just one citation related to illegal fireworks, to a man who reportedly received multiple warnings before Post Falls police gave him a ticket for setting off aerial fireworks.

“We usually try to educate as much as possible,” Capt. Greg McLean said. “This guy was just not accepting our warnings.”

Setting off aerial fireworks is a misdemeanor offense.

However, McLean said, issuing citations for illegal fireworks is a challenge because officers have to witness the act. Short of that, all police can do is give a warning.

Post Falls police responded to 84 calls for service related to fireworks between Friday and Sunday.

“It was like a war zone going on,” McLean said. “There were so many (fireworks) going off in all neighborhoods.”

Officers also issued 23 written warnings for fireworks over the weekend, a number that McLean likely would’ve been doubled if more personnel were available.

Lt. Ryan Higgins with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said the agency braced itself for what promised to be a bustling holiday weekend, as did other local law enforcement agencies.

“We were ready,” Higgins said. “We had lots of staff in the streets and in our facilities.”

Between Friday and Monday morning, KCSO handled 833 calls for service, including 197 calls related to fireworks and 21 calls for fires.

It’s a significant jump from 2019, the most recent Independence Day weekend when the sheriff’s office kept a running track.

In 2019, KCSO responded to 524 calls for service.

Sgt. Brandon Friis said the Rathdrum Police Department responded to 34 fireworks-related complaints over the holiday weekend and issued no citations.

Coeur d’Alene police responded to 451 total calls for service on Saturday and Sunday, including 88 related to fireworks.

On July 4, officers made 32 arrests, most of them due to active warrants, alcohol-related offenses or disorderly conduct. About half of those arrested were Idaho residents, while the rest came from out of state.

Officers issued 38 misdemeanor citations, many for alcohol-related offenses and fighting, as well as 120 warnings. Most citations were reportedly issued to Washington residents.

“It was extremely busy,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said, adding that officers “aggressively” enforced laws prohibiting alcohol in public parks. “There were no fights after the fireworks, which was unique, frankly.”

Kootenai Health reported no injuries from fireworks this Independence Day.

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.

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