South Whidbey prepares for Independence Day, big booms

Bob Welch displays the popular TNT “pop its” fireworks at the South Whidbey Kiwanis stand in Clinton.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Bob Welch displays the popular TNT “pop its” fireworks at the South Whidbey Kiwanis stand in Clinton.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

More fireworks stands than ever are on South Whidbey this year with three in Clinton alone.

Coming off the ferry, there’s one near All Island Express Taxi. Further up Highway 525, a tent is on the lawn of Dalton Realty. Then there’s the old mainstay at Ken’s Korner, the TNT fireworks stand run by South Whidbey Kiwanis. Another stand is at the Payless Foods parking lot in Freeland.

All of these are designed to part people with their cash in exchange for a flash, a sparkle or a bang. Fireworks are a time-honored tradition for Independence Day on July 4 and the less-explosive New Year’s Eve.

Lighting fireworks is far from a universally approved activity, though it is legal in Island County on certain dates. Animal supporters caution against fireworks because the noise and light can startle and disrupt pets and livestock.

“It’s horrendous,” said Judy Dewing, who works at WAIF’s Freeland Cat Cottage, near the area’s annual Celebrate America festival and fireworks show. “I have to shut the windows and turn up the radio loud.

“We’re practically next door to the fireworks.”

Fire protection districts and emergency responders are wary of fireworks, which when handled improperly can lead to injury. In Island County, however, fireworks are not restricted other than in Coupeville and Langley city limits.

Langley does not allow the sale of fireworks and only allows them to be discharged from 9 a.m. to midnight July 4.

“Folks need to know two things: They are explosive and they are potentially dangerous,” said Rusty Palmer, chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS.

“Fireworks are often more powerful than folks understand. Leave lots of clearance from brush.”

Last year, South Whidbey’s fire protection district responded to one fire caused by fireworks. A bottle rocket ignited a small brush fire that firefighters had to extinguish.

“With the hot weather coming up, things are going to dry up pretty fast here,” Palmer said.

“There’s little difference between an ember and a bottle rocket if the fuels are right.”

County residents recently attempted to convince Island County commissioners to shorten the fireworks season to no avail. The commissioners voted unanimously to shorten its fireworks sales and discharge season by one day, bringing its end from July 6 to July 5.

Fireworks are available for sale and use starting June 28 until July 5.

On South Whidbey, the massive event Celebrate America has enough fireworks to illuminate Holmes Harbor and the Freeland sky, especially on a clear night.

For others seeking a more intimate setting of bombs bursting in air, picking up a pack of shells, sparklers, ground blooms and other items from the Kiwanis stand for $50 is hard to beat. No need to travel to a reservation for potentially illegal fireworks. And keep an eye on supply at the Ken’s Korner stand, which was reduced to nearly empty in past years.

The Kiwanis made $13,000 from fireworks sales last year, the most of any year they operated the stand. All of that money goes into the Whidbey Island kids’ community through scholarships and the funding of Children’s Day at Community Park.

“We don’t keep a dime,” said Bob Welch, the club’s president.

“They’re supporting kids,” he said of the Kiwanis stand’s patrons.

Fireworks may be discharged in unincorporated areas of Island County from June 28 to July 5. The hours are from noon to 11 p.m. June 28, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 29-July 3 and 5, and 9 a.m. to midnight July 4.

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