Apartment blaze caused by fireworks, officials say

rgiwargis@mercedsunstarJuly 7, 2014 

A fire that damaged two units in a Los Banos apartment complex Saturday was caused by improper use of fireworks, officials with the Los Banos Fire Department said.

The blaze erupted around 11:45 p.m. Saturday at the eight-unit 1100 D St. complex, according to Asst. Chief Tim Marrison. All of the residents were able to escape safely, although one firefighter required stitches after cutting his hand.

Marrison said investigators determined the fire was caused by altered “safe and sane” fireworks. He added Los Banos police are assisting with the investigation, and it’s still undetermined whether anyone will face charges. Damage to the building is estimated to be around $25,000. Marrison said 13 firefighters responded to the scene.

Outside of Los Banos, Merced city and county fire officials said the Fourth of July weekend was a relatively quiet one, despite extra dry conditions caused by the drought.

Authorities said the second year of fireworks in Merced County’s unincorporated areas proved to be less problematic than the first. The county last year adopted an ordinance allowing the sale and use of “safe-and-sane” fireworks in unincorporated communities.

Jeremy Rahn, fire chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said seven grass fires were reported in the county over Fourth of July weekend, but none appeared to be fireworks-related.

“We did not have any substantial fires that were linked to fireworks,” Rahn said, adding there were 89 calls for service. “We’re not aware of any injuries, so we’re really pleased that the education and outreach that was done seemed to be effective.”

Last year, county officials said about a dozen fires were reported in Merced County’s unincorporated communities.

Merced City fire officials responded to seven blazes on Fourth of July, four of which were vegetation fires. Most of those fires were called in while firecrackers were being used from 9 p.m. through midnight, said Battalion Chief Shawn Henry.

“I happened to drive through the area and there were a lot of illegal fireworks going off and generally, that’s the major cause,” Henry said.

Henry said the city recently adopted an ordinance to crack down on illegal fireworks, increasing fines for illegal use to up to $1,000.

Merced Police received 40 calls for service and responded to one small grass fire, according to Sgt. Curt Gorman.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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