First published on The Big Smoke.
June 30, 2021
If you need any more evidence that elected officials have no intention of giving anything more than lip service to actions necessary to mitigate climate change, you need look no further than the upcoming so-called Independence Day holiday in the United States.
Despite ongoing drought, record-breaking heat, and significant fire damage caused in prior years, they have done nothing to prevent the profitable sale of explosives (aka “fireworks”) to individuals who more than likely do not know how to use them safely and will detonate them while intoxicated.
As a brief respite begins from three record-shattering days of heat that buckled roads, shut down the Portland metropolitan transit system, sent more than 500 people to the hospital just in Multnomah County and killed at least 63 people statewide, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) banned firework usage “until further notice.”
However, this ban was announced three days before the holiday weekend starts, after people have already set off fireworks every night for a week, and includes no enforcement. (PF&R went so far as to dissuade people from calling 9-1-1 to report fireworks.) Nor does it include any restrictions on the very lucrative sales of fireworks. Those sales continue at a brisk pace and we all know that no one will purchase pyrotechnic devices and not blow them up.
Clark County, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, banned both the use and sale of fireworks. Until midnight on July 4. Those who live in (or adjacent to) states that allow untrained individuals to own and detonate incendiary equipment are very familiar with fireworks exploding until the wee hours of the morning July 4 as well as the weeks preceding and following the holiday. The best that can be expected from the Clark County ban will be fireworks commencing at midnight July 5.
PF&R apparently has more authority than other Oregon fire departments. Jurisdictions elsewhere in the Portland metropolitan area are merely begging people to find other ways to celebrate more safely. After numerous people already purchased their rockets and bombs currently available on every street corner, in every grocery shop, at every discount store.
Nearly 90 percent of the American West is under drought conditions. More than three-fourths of Oregon entered May in some stage of drought. And yet, nothing was done in the months leading up to this utterly predictable situation to prevent the coming conflagration.
In 2020, from June 23 through July 6, fireworks started 44 fires in the City of Portland. The 2020 California El Dorado Fire, started by fireworks used at a “gender reveal” party, burned 22,680 acres starting in El Dorado Park near Yucaipa. Fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires reported to local U.S. fire departments in 2018 causing five deaths, 46 serious injuries, and $105 million in direct property damage. In 2017, a 15-year-old boy igniting fireworks during a burn ban started the Eagle Creek Fire, which ravaged nearly 48,000 acres on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon and caused millions of dollars in damages.
Over and over, U.S. citizens prove they are not capable of safely handling fireworks–sacrificing fingers, eyes, and homes to explode rockets and grenades in their driveways. Yet, no one is brave enough to shut down the industry and eliminate the profits. Even in states such as Oregon which ban some more dangerous fireworks, people just drive across the river to acquire the more deadly explosives available in Washington.
I wrote this poem in 2015. No one would publish it (although it was accepted in 2017, that publication went under before this was published) until Portland Metrozine included it in the Summer 2019 issue. It was rejected almost 200 times. Unfortunately, denial doesn’t change facts.
Fire sweeps across the west,
burning fields, forests,
houses, and boats.
Drought parches farmland from
states to Rockies.
Seas rise, encroaching on
beaches, putting the
islands at risk.
Storms tear through our cities
during fall, winter,
summer, and spring.
Yet still those in power
deny climate change
At best they’ll blame nature,
claim humans are not
They refute the data,
of their own eyes.
And so we’ve reached the point
of no return, when
we can’t survive.
The planet will continue
All that we’ve taken, we’ve
built, we’ve learned, soon will