Merced County area fire chiefs are reminding residents to use legal fireworks safely this year to prevent fires, and warned that anyone using fireworks illegally faces the risk of being fined.
Merced County Fire Marshal John Morgan said Thursday that authorities hope to repeat the safety record noted over the Fourth of July holiday last year, when there were no reports of fires triggered by fireworks in unincorporated parts of the county.
“But even Safe and Sane fireworks are dangerous,” he said. “They do start fires, just fewer fires.”
Safe and Sane fireworks are identified by the state seal of certification. They only shower sparks and do not leave the ground or explode. Safe and Sane fireworks that are modified are considered illegal.
Shawn Henry, fire chief for the city of Merced, reminded residents to take precautions while using fireworks, such as having a garden hose and/or a fire extinguisher nearby and disposing of spent fireworks in a bucket of water, not a trash can.
Last year, the home of a Merced firefighter was destroyed after fireworks that had been disposed of in a neighbor’s trash can caught fire, Henry said.
Tim Marrison, Los Banos’ fire chief, said the city has three or four fires start from fireworks in garbage cans each year.
“We encourage everyone to have a great time, but in a competent and safe manner,” said Merced County Division Chief Mark Lawson.
This is only the third year people in unincorporated areas in Merced County are allowed to set off fireworks, said Nancy Koerperich, Merced County fire chief.
Koerperich said county fire officials will be diligent in watching out for poor use of fireworks. “We don’t want a few bad apples to ruin it for everyone else,” she said.
Koerperich also pointed out that any firework use is illegal in state responsibility areas, such as in Snelling, anywhere east of G Street in Merced, south of Merced Falls Road and in the West Side areas west of Interstate 5.
All agencies will have extra personnel on hand to catch illegal use of fireworks. The fines are not cheap, and can come with criminal charges.
In the city of Merced, unincorporated Merced County and Gustine, the first offense for using fireworks illegally is $1,000. In Los Banos, the fine is $1,250 for each illegal device, plus a fee for the Fire Department to dispose of them.
If caught with illegal fireworks, any amount less than 100 pounds is a misdemeanor. Any amount 100 to 5,000 pounds could bring a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on the district attorney’s discretion.
In Merced, residents may set off Safe and Sane fireworks until noon July 6. In Los Banos, Safe and Sane fireworks are allowed from 9 a.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Monday. In the unincorporated areas of Merced County, residents can set off fireworks until 10 p.m. Monday.
The fire officials recommended that residents keep fireworks away from dry grass and dead trees, fuel that can allow a small fire to spread quickly.
Fire officials said the safest way to enjoy fireworks during July Fourth celebrations is by attending a professionally organized display.