Illegal fireworks an issue across county

07/05/2013 4:16 PM

07/05/2013 4:16 PM

Fire officials reported varying numbers of incidents during the Fourth of July holiday, and some expect more during the long weekend.

For the first time, state fire marshal approved “safe and sane” fireworks were made legal for use in unincorporated parts of Merced County. Many cities already allow them within city limits.

“There were illegal fireworks being discharged throughout the county yesterday,” said Battalion Chief Gabriel Santos of Cal Fire in Merced County. “A lot of people are under the perception that now that we’re allowing fireworks, it’s any fireworks.”

Cal Fire wrote three citations Thursday in the Merced and Atwater areas for the use of illegal fireworks, Santos said, and confiscated any unspent illegal pyrotechnics. The citations carry a fine of up to $1,000. 

With the Fourth falling on a Thursday, Santos said he expected Friday would be an eventful night. He said some might continue to use illegal or safe and sane fireworks Friday.

The legal use of safe and sane pyrotechnics continues through the weekend in the county. 

Under California law, illegal fireworks include sky rockets, bottle rockets, Roman candles, aerial shells, firecrackers and other miscellaneous types that explode, go up in the air or move about the ground in an uncontrollable fashion. 

Santos said no injuries from fireworks were reported, but it’s common for those injured to go to the hospital without calling 911. He said a mobile home took minor damage on the 2000 block of Ashby Road in Merced after children playing with fireworks caught a tree ablaze.

Firefighters were busy within the city limits of Merced, according to Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin.

“We were fortunate not to have anything significant,” he said. 

Merced Fire Department responded to some small fireworks-related fires, but the bigger problem was illegal pyrotechnics, McLaughlin said. 

Merced Fire does not have a system in place to cite illegal users, McLaughlin said, so he plans to ramp up education and develop an ordinance by this time next year.

“The quantity just puts our community at risk,” he said, adding the aerial fireworks can easily ignite a roof.

McLaughlin said he did not receive any reports of burns or other injuries. The use of safe and sane pyrotechnics within Merced can continue until noon Saturday.

Los Banos Fire Department issued three citations for illegal firework use on July 4. The $1,000 fine for first-time infractions carries an additional $250 charge from the California Fire Marshal’s Office, which disposes of the illegal material. Fines increase after subsequent infractions.

Fire Chief Chet Guintini blamed two area fires on fireworks.

Guintini said a 2-acre grass fire was ignited on the edge of the city limits. The other fire occurred when safe and sane pyrotechnics were placed in a garbage can too quickly, he said.

The fire in the garbage can spread to a nearby fence and caused minor damage. Guintini said revelers should soak safe and sane fireworks in a bucket of water for a few hours or overnight before throwing them in a receptacle.

The legal igniting of safe and sane fireworks in Los Banos ended at 10 p.m. July 4. Guintini said he doesn’t expect many to use the legal or illegal type during the weekend.

“I think folks pretty well burned through their stuff,” he said. 

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or by email at tmiller@mercedsun-star.com.

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