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'I’m concerned we’re literally playing with fire': New firework ban in Bonner County during extreme heat

Idaho Code gives county commissioners the authority to prohibit the use of fireworks based on the “vegetative conditions during the current fire season.”

BONNER COUNTY, Idaho — A fireworks ban has been adopted for unincorporated areas in Bonner County.

Tuesday morning, Bonner County commissioners passed a resolution banning fireworks within the county at the request of Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.

The region’s unusually high temperatures played a major role in officials' decision to implement the ban. Discussion from both commissioners and audience members focused on the unusually high temperatures and dry vegetation as reasons why a ban would need to be put in place.

“I’m concerned we’re literally playing with fire,” said Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad at the beginning of the meeting, during public comment.

Bonner County officials do not have jurisdiction in established fire districts, or incorporated areas.

Most of the debate focused on whether or not Bonner County had the authority to implement the ban for areas under other governance, such as cities or fire districts.

Many people shared their knowledge in public comment including public officials, previous public officials, attorneys, and citizens.

“We need to ban it countywide,” said Selkirk Fire Chief Bill Hopkins. “It's not safe. You’re going to end up with this piecemeal ‘you can do this here, you can’t do this here.’ These are just lines on a map, we don’t draw these boundaries through people’s properties.”

“The greatest liability is fear,” said Sandpoint city attorney Andrew Doman.

Doman said Idaho Code gives county commissioners the authority to prohibit the use of fireworks based on the “vegetative conditions during the current fire season.”

“It’s a stellar year for fire. It’s the windiest time of year in Idaho right now. And the driest spring in who knows how long,” said Commissioner Steven Bradshaw, “I think it would be irresponsible not to do it, I think the risk of liability would be much higher if we didn’t.”

After a half hour of discussion over how to interpret the law, commissioners opted not to include areas under other forms of governance or oversight.

In order for a county-wide fireworks ban to take place, individual municipalities and fire districts will each have to adopt a ban of their own.

Possessing and using fireworks on public land is already prohibited per Idaho Code.

As for now, those in positions of power are still weighing the pros and cons that a fireworks ban would bring to their area.

“It all just came to a head today,” said Chief Spencer Newton of Schweitzer Fire District on Tuesday. “We’re in the process of discussing what direction we want to go in.”

Schweitzer is not the only district wrestling with the decision. All other fire districts, with the exception of Sam Owen Fire District, have not publicly commented on whether they will follow the county with implementing a fireworks ban, or decide to hold to the previous resolution allowing fireworks designated as “safe and sane”.

Sam Owen fire district came forward with a permanent fireworks ban on June 25.

“We all like fireworks, but it’s just too dangerous,” said Sheriff Daryl Wheeler in Tuesday’s meeting.

If an individual starts a wildfire, they will be held financially responsible for firefighting costs, any resulting property damage, and up to a $150 fine for the infraction.

The fireworks ban does not apply to barbecues or campfires. Burn permits are free, and can be obtained by visiting burnpermits.idaho.gov.