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Drought year danger makes fireworks safety task force efforts more critical than ever

The convergence of drought-parched conditions, a recent rash of suspected arson-caused fires around the state, and the increased movement of illegal fireworks into California are bringing renewed commitment to fire safety enforcement efforts in the run-up to the Fourth of July. A linchpin for these efforts is the sale of Safe and Sane fireworks, which not only has proven to reduce the use of illegal pyrotechnics but also provides funds for enhanced enforcement efforts.

More than 175 tons of illegal fireworks have been confiscated in California this year, with both the size and frequency of seizures growing as the traditional holiday approaches. In early June, El Monte police found 22 tons of illegal fireworks in a warehouse, followed by the confiscation of 250 pounds at a store a week later. In mid-May, Monterey Park officials removed 25 tons of fireworks from a warehouse -- enough to fill seven large tractor trailers.

The perennial problem of illegal fireworks has been magnified this year by drought conditions that raise the possibility of wildfires. In addition, some fire officials who have been investigating recent suspicious fires fear that arsonists may use the cover of the Fourth of July as an opportunity to torch structures for insurance gains or set other fires for excitement. As a result, many jurisdictions are enhancing their illegal fireworks enforcement efforts, as well as focusing on arson prevention.

“Users of illegal fireworks can cause severe damage and significant injuries at a time of year when we all should be celebrating this special occasion, not engaging in destructive, criminal behavior,” said Tonya Hoover, California State fire marshal. “Enforcement agencies are using every tool at their disposal to cut off supplies of illegal fireworks and stop this illegal activity in its tracks. All Californians can help us by only using Safe and Sane Fireworks and reporting any illegal activity that they see.”

In the capitol region, the Greater Sacramento Area Fireworks Safety Task Force is using funding earmarked from the sale of state-approved fireworks by more than 405 Sacramento-area nonprofits to field special teams to patrol, identify those using or selling illegal fireworks, issue citations and prosecute offenders.

California-approved fireworks provide exciting bursts of colors and sounds, but do not go up in the air, explode or move around the ground in an uncontrolled manner. These go on sale every year in the week before the Fourth of July and are the only legal fireworks for use on the holiday.

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Fire Marshal Bill Daniels and Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Ruanne Dozier both emphasize that their agencies are ready to fight illegal fireworks with plenty of firepower -- in the case of the fire department, with a zero tolerance citation for any amount of banned pyrotechnics. “If you are violating the law, we are coming after you -- because we don’t want you to ruin the Fourth of July for everyone else,” Daniels said.

The sanctions are substantial, with the DA’s office offering five days in county jail in return for a guilty plea for merely possessing illegal fireworks. Those caught using them could be required to serve a minimum of 10 days. “We take these cases very seriously,” Dozier said.

The Greater Sacramento Area Fireworks Safety Task Force is a safety coalition composed of representatives of local government, the fire service, the 405 non-profit organizations who sell state-approved fireworks in the Greater Sacramento area, the media, and the state-approved fireworks industry.


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