Merced supervisors OK safe, sane fireworks in rural areas

Vendors expected to educate buyers on fire danger

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 9, 2013 

— The unincorporated communities of Merced County will be able to use and sell fireworks this Fourth of July, the county supervisors decided Tuesday.

Proposed by county fire officials, the ordinance allows nonprofit groups and residents to sell and use safe-and-sane fireworks from June 28 to July 4 in unincorporated parts of the county.

Nonprofit organizations could run stands selling the fireworks after paying certain fees and passing a site inspection.

Nancy Koerperich, fire chief with Merced County-California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said legalizing fireworks will allow fire crews to focus their efforts on "illegal or dangerous" fireworks.

"We spend a lot of our time chasing down illegal fireworks that are actually safe-and-sane," Koerperich said. "People know they can go to other counties and buy them, not knowing they can't use them in unincorporated parts of Merced County."

Despite a unanimous vote Tuesday, Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said she's concerned about the fire risks posed by the ordinance, especially in rural parts of the county.

"I'm putting a measured amount of faith in the Fire Department in being able to implement this, but I'm still very concerned," Kelsey said.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is the trial period, and if it doesn't work, we'll put it back on the agenda and vote on it again," she said.

Koerperich said her agency will work with anyone running a fireworks stand to educate the public about fireworks safety. She said all vendors will be asked to distribute a "do's and don'ts" checklist to each customer.

"In any fire season, we always run the risk of increased fires, but this is going to give us the opportunity to improve our education process," Koerperich said.

"We'll be diligent about it, and the first year will be a bit of a learning curve," she added. "But we'll be able to take the information we've learned from this year and improve on the process next year."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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