By Lyndsie Kiebert
In 35 years working in fire services, Selkirk Fire Chief Ron Stocking has only had two Fourth of July holidays off. The nature of the day’s celebration means safety personnel are responding to calls regarding anything from firework-induced skin burns to full-blown wildfires.
“You get the whole gamut because everybody is celebrating our country’s independence, and they’re doing it with alcohol and fire,” Stocking said.
While fireworks available at stands across the county are OK for personal use, Stocking said it’s important for everyone to remember — especially those coming from out of state to celebrate — that aerial fireworks are illegal in Idaho unless an official permit is obtained from the local fire district. Stocking said the only aerial fireworks he permits in Sandpoint are the ones launched at dusk from City Beach as part of the Sandpoint Lions Club Independence Day Community Celebration.
“(Aerial fireworks) are the ones that scare us,” he said. “Those start fires in the forest and injure people when they’re improperly ignited or have a malfunction. They impact peoples’ lives forever.”
Stocking said that while the smaller, localized fireworks are legal, he suggests keeping a bucket of water and hose nearby. Once a firework is spent, soak it in the bucket prior to throwing it away in order to avoid a trash fire.
In a statement Monday, U.S. Forest Service officials reminded forest recreators that “fireworks, and the possession of fireworks, are prohibited on National Forest System lands, regardless of weather conditions or holidays.” This is not limited to aerial fireworks — all firework devices, even those purchased at licensed firework dealers, are not permitted in National Forests.
USFS shared some additional pointers “for a fun and safe recreational experience this Fourth of July.” First, public land campers are expected to douse campfires with water, stir and then check the embers with a bare hand. Fires must be dead out when left unattended or leaving the campsite altogether.
The statement reminded campers that food should be stored in vehicles or bear-safe containers, which are available on the Bonners Ferry, Priest Lake and portions of the Sandpoint Ranger Districts. Recreators on motorized equipment are expected to stick to motorized trails, and everyone using public lands over the holiday weekend should plan to pack out all garbage they produce.
While USFS offices will be closed Thursday for the holiday, they will be open on Wednesday, July 3 and Friday, July 5. For more information on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, contact the Sandpoint Ranger District at (208) 263-5111.
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