Plan ahead for the 4th of July

Published on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 by Steve Guntli

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The Fourth of July weekend is synonymous with fireworks, food and fun, but unfortunately there is also an increased risk for fires and frustration. With errant fireworks starting blazes in dry, grassy areas every year, traffic at the border frequently backed up to a near standstill and local streets blocked off to accommodate the annual parade, it’s best to plan ahead and keep safety in mind to maximize your enjoyment and maintain your sanity.

Blaine and Birch Bay residents are lucky enough to have front–row access to the best Independence Day celebration in Whatcom County, but that privilege comes with a sacrifice; namely, multiple road closures around town and limited parking. 

The parade route this year will run along Peace Portal Drive from Marine Drive to Cherry Street, across Martin Street to Harrison Avenue and then back around 4th Street. The space in between will be shut down to accommodate the Show N Shine car show, street vendors and other entertainment.

“Parking is always an issue,” said Carroll Solomon of the Blaine Chamber of Commerce. “With so much of downtown shut down for the parade, people will have to find spots in residential areas, near the school or at the shopping center on H Street, but that’s going to be a bit of a hike.”

People with a Washington State Discover Pass can park at Peace Arch International Park. Others can also use the lots near the closed-down Duty Free shop across the street from Big Al’s Diner on 2nd Street. It’s advisable to arrive to the festival early and be prepared for heavy traffic.  

Safety should also be first and foremost on people’s minds for the holidays, especially for those who are planning to forgo the festivals and head out into the woods for the long weekend. 

According to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), fireworks were the cause of 27 wildfires in Washington state in 2013, and many of those were started on lands where the DNR has explicitly restricted fireworks use. It’s important to confirm that fireworks are allowed at any particular location before setting them off. 

Earlier this year, Bellingham City Council voted to ban fireworks sales and discharge throughout the city. In the county, fireworks can only be sold and discharged at specific times, according to the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s office. From June 29 to July 3, fireworks can only be set off between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. On Friday, July 4, the allowable times are 9 a.m. to midnight, before returning back to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 5. 

Certain fireworks are legal throughout the county, but some purchased on tribal lands can only be discharged legally on the reservation. These include firecrackers, bottle rockets, any missile-type rocket with fins, any fireworks with sticks and any mortar shells larger than 1.75 inches in diameter. Explosives like M-80s, M-100s and tennis ball bombs are illegal everywhere. 

Campers should be particularly careful with their campfires, cars and recreational vehicles. Cars that are left idling in fields with dried out grass or timber can start a fire from the heat of their exhaust pipes. Recreational vehicles like ATVs or dirt bikes should have a working spark arrester installed to prevent any errant sparks from igniting the dry grass. And of course, campfires should be thoroughly extinguished before abandoning the campsite.

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