County fire officials said last year’s temporary fireworks ordinance was a huge success, prompting the agency to support a long-term permanent ordinance.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously waived the first reading of a permanent county fireworks ordinance and scheduled it for possible adoption on May 20. The ordinance allows for the sale and use of safe-and-sane fireworks in unincorporated communities.
County supervisors last year approved an urgent ordinance less than a month before the Fourth of July, asking the Fire Department to gauge its success during the first year.
Officials said the ordinance helped with fire safety education and reduced fireworks-related blazes from from eight to three.
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“The best thing about having an ordinance is we have a better opportunity to educate the people on the correct use of safe-and-sane fireworks,” said Nancy Koerperich, fire chief with Merced County-California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’re able to talk to them more about the appropriate and inappropriate use of fireworks.”
Koerperich said people were buying fireworks from the cities and using them in unincorporated areas before the ordinancewas enacted. The new rules help establish guidelines and allow agencies to better regulate the legal fireworks.
“It is giving us an opportunity to actually talk to people, because before it was a hidden aspect,” Koerperich said. “We still knew they were using them and no one asked us questions. Now we have the opportunity to tell them the rules.”
Last year, 14 nonprofits were approved to operate fireworks stands in Merced County after paying fees and passing a site inspection.
One of those groups was Tri-City Youth Football and Cheer. The group’s president said selling fireworks last year raised about $7,000, helping fund new uniforms for the team.
“It’s the best fundraiser we have all year, other than our home games,” said President Ben Esquivel. “We’ve already submitted the paperwork for a booth this year because we did very well last year.”
District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey on Tuesday asked fire officials about public outreach efforts to educate children and adults about fireworks safety. Chief Mark Lawson said his agency is spreading the word using brochures, attending municipal advisory council meetings and educating students at county fairs.
“With the urgency clause, we didn’t have a lot of time to get ahead of it,” Lawson said of last year’s ordinance. “This year, we’ve been able to work with the fire prevention bureau.”
Some people have raised concerns about the dry conditions from the drought and the potential for more fires.
Koerperich said she believes residents will exercise more caution because of the dry conditions.
The drought doesn’t change where fireworks stands can operate, she added, which prohibits them in areas of dry vegetation.
“Regardless of whether we are in a drought or not, folks are required to be in an area where there is plenty of clearance,” she said. “We’re very cautious about the locations of the booths. We shouldn’t see additional fires because of the drought.”
The state has not mandated banning fireworks because of the drought, Koerperich said, but those type of restrictions could be a reality one day. “I don’t anticipate there being any problem with it,” she said, “but I never try to predict what will happen from a state level.”
If the ordinance is adopted on May 20, the use of safe-and-sane fireworks will be allowed from June 28 to July 4 in unincorporated parts of the county.