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Turlock cracking down on illegal fireworks
Hughson to create similar penalty
An assortment of illegal fireworks. - photo by File Photo

Fourth of July celebrations aren’t complete without a little sparkle and pop, but those who choose illegal fireworks instead of the safe and sane approved selections this holiday weekend could be getting a big bang to their pocketbooks.

The Turlock City Council voted in May to adopt a $500 penalty for making or using dangerous fireworks within the City limits.

Before the municipal code amendment, regulations were on the books for fireworks displays, sales, storage, use and handling of fireworks and temporary fireworks stands. The code did not, however, prohibit possession of dangerous fireworks or include penalties for their use.

According to Turlock Fire Marshal Mark Gomez, the amount of dangerous and illegal fireworks in Turlock has increased over the past few years resulting in more fires.  Gomez called a typical Fourth of July holiday in Turlock as the “Wild West” in regards to illegal fireworks calls.

The administrative penalty for making, using or possessing illegal or dangerous fireworks in Turlock is now $500, with repeat offenders being hit with a $1,000 fine for each additional violation.

The new code not only has a violation for the person actually doing the fireworks, but it also extends the definition of responsible party to potential property owners.

“This is another tool in our toolbox in regards to how we enforce,” said Interim City Attorney Jose Sanchez about the new penalty in May.

In the past, if a police officer saw an illegal firework being used the officer could arrest the violator with a misdemeanor charge. The changes in the Municipal Code allow for firefighters, along with police officers, to address an incident of illegal or dangerous fireworks. Both fire and police personnel can give a fireworks code violator the new $500 administrative citation.

It also allows for citing those possessing the dangerous and illegal fireworks.

“It’s very difficult to identify where these incidents are occurring… we get reports or we hear a boom. A misdemeanor charge of the (California) Health and Safety Code requires that it’s observed in the presence of law enforcement or you have a viable witness who is willing to place that person under private person’s arrest,” said Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar in May.

Under the new Code, if a police officer hears a boom and finds smoke, burned grass and remnants of a dangerous firework, they can give a citation.

Amirfar said that the Health and Safety Code also sets forth when a fireworks violation would be considered a felony charge in regards to the amount of gun powder used.

The definition of dangerous and illegal fireworks is defined in the Health and Safety Code’s section 12505, and includes fireworks that contain arsenates, chlorates, magnesium; firecrackers, skyrockets, Roman candles; sparklers more than 10 inches in length or one-fourth of one inch in diameter; torpedoes; and make-your-own fireworks kits, among others.

All fireworks that have the Safe and Sane seal by the State Fire Marshal are legal to use in the City of Turlock.

The neighboring community of Hughson will soon be following in Turlock’s footsteps with their own illegal fireworks penalty.

On June 11, the Hughson City Council unanimously directed City staff to bring forward changes to the Hughson Municipal Code to better address the increase in recent years of illegal firework activity within the City limits.

Modeled after programs implemented recently in the cities of Ceres, Modesto and Turlock, Hughson will follow suit by incorporating language into its municipal code to allow public safety personnel to enforce illegal activity more effectively.

The ordinance amendment is expected to define the activity, responsible party, monetary penalty and other administrative procedures. In some cities, the monetary penalty per occurrence is $1,000.

The ordinance amendment is also expected to address safe and sane fireworks and the associated permitting process. The recommended revisions to the municipal code will be done in the next few weeks but not in time for the upcoming 4 th of July holiday. That said, Hughson Police Services, will coordinate with the Hughson Fire Protection District, special operations this year to curtail activity and to educate residents and property owners on the new regulation under development.

As part of this enforcement plan, illegal fireworks found by law enforcement personnel will be confiscated and disposed of properly. This new program is being created due to the increased activity in the City limits during the holidays (4th of July, New Years Eve, etc.) and based on strong feedback from City residents. City staff will also be posting educational information, like in years past, to remind residents on what fireworks are legal in the State of California and general safety tips that should be followed during the holidays when handling fireworks during celebrations.

Illegal fireworks aren’t just a problem in the Central Valley. According to the 2017 Fireworks Annual Report prepared by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks were involved in an estimated 12,900 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2017, with 67 percent of those occurring between June 16 and July 16, 2017.

There were eight fireworks-related deaths in 2017. Of the eight fatalities in 2017, five were related to reloadable aerial devices; one was associated with manufacturing homemade devices; one involved a firecracker; and one was related to sparklers. Seven victims died from direct impacts of fireworks, and one victim died in a house fire caused by misusing a firecracker.

Children 10 to 14 years of age had the highest estimated rate of emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries (5.9 injuries per 100,000 people). Young adults 20 to 24 years of age had the second highest estimated rate (5.8 injuries per 100,000 people).

There were an estimated 1,200 emergency department-treated injuries associated with sparklers and 300 with bottle rockets.

There were an estimated 800 emergency department-treated injuries associated with firecrackers. Of these, an estimated 51 percent were associated with small firecrackers, an estimated 18 percent with illegal firecrackers, and an estimated 31 percent with firecrackers for which there was no specific information.

The Turlock Fire Department advises those purchasing and setting off fireworks this holiday to take the following precautions:

·         Fireworks should always be used with extreme caution and should only be handled by adults.

·          Before using any fireworks, read and follow all warnings and instructions printed on the label.

·         Fireworks are only to be lit outdoors, in a clear area away from structures (houses, buildings) and flammable materials (gasoline cans, lighter fluid, etc.)

·         Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for dousing fireworks that do not ignite.

·         Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.  Soak them with water and throw them away.

·         Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.

·         Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially glass or metal containers.

·         Store fireworks in a dry and cool place.  Check instructions for special storage directions.

Never point or throw fireworks at another person.