PSU wildfire researcher supports ban of fireworks over the holiday weekend

A wildfire burns on a mountain slope at night

Heading into a long 4th of July weekend, cities and counties across Oregon and Southwest Washington are banning fireworks.

"Due to unusually hot temperatures and dry conditions, PF&R is announcing an immediate ban on the use of all legal and illegal fireworks," the Portland Bureau of Fire and Rescue stated in a June 29 press release.

The news comes on the heels of three record-breaking days during which the temperatures across the northwest soared into the triple digits and a month during which rainfall totals in Portland fell short of 1.5 inches--the average is 2.1 inches.

Given the extreme heat, an abundance of very dry vegetation and record-breaking drought across much of the West, researchers across the country are voicing their support for such bans, citing more than 7,000 wildfire ignitions started on July 4 over the last several decades--July 4th is the day with the most human ignitions started on record (1992-2015) in either the wildland-urban interface and in very low-density housing across the western US. Researchers, along with public safety officials, are noting the risks of human-caused fires like the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, which was ignited by fireworks.

Andrés Holz, a professor of geography at Portland State University is one of the scientists backing the temporary ban. Holz’s research explores the relationship between climate, wildfires and human activities.

“It is a difficult decision [to ban fireworks], but we need to remember how challenging the 2020 Labor Day Fires were for all of us, and continue to be for many Oregonians," said Holz. "The air quality was horrific and many people lost their homes. Unfortunately, if we were to use a model to predict high fire activity using what we know from past events, this coming weekend would pop up as one with extreme likelihood of burning, primarily because of human ignitions.” 

According to Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Boon, the decision to ban fireworks was not made lightly but is critical to protect “life, property, and the environment” given the unprecedented conditions in the metro region and across the Northwest

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