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Fire officials crack down on illegal fireworks
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“Safe and sane” are the keywords this year when it comes to fireworks. Stanislaus County and Turlock City Fire Department officials will be on the lookout for anyone using or selling fireworks that do not carry the State Fire Marshal's “safe and sane” seal. Stanislaus County will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for illegal fireworks.

 Illegal fireworks are generally those that do not have the State Fire Marshal's seal, or any that go up into the air or explode. Fireworks sold at approved vendor booths around Turlock are all in the “safe and sane” category and meet all local firework laws and ordinances.

 Some parts of the county, including the City of Modesto, will impose a minimum $1,000 fine on anyone caught using illegal fireworks.

“We are here today to tell those who are trafficking illegal fireworks and the potential would-be celebrants in Stanislaus County who might think about using these dangerous, illegal devices... We don't put up with it! We intend to put a stop to it,” said Modesto Fire chief James Miguel.

The Turlock City Fire Department is facing an even greater challenge when it comes to fireworks this year. Mark Gomez, fire marshal for the Turlock City Fire Department, said that the larger number of vacant homes in the area increases the chances that illegal fireworks could start structure fires.

“Those illegal fireworks go up in the air and no one can predict where they will come down. They could end up on the roof or in the weeds in the back yard of a vacant house and start a structure fire. By the time anyone realizes it and calls the fire department the fire may have spread,” Gomez said.

This scenario is one that Gomez says could happen all over the state of California. The down economy and the number of foreclosed homes have led to a number of dead or untended yards, which pose a fire hazard. Gomez said that even legal fireworks can start a fire if they are used in the grass or near weeds and trees.

“Always light fireworks on a hard, clear surface such as asphalt, concrete or mineral dirt. That means no grass, no fields. Keep them away from cars, combustibles, trees, shades and awnings,” Gomez said.

Lighting fireworks in public streets is allowed, but Gomez urged residents not to light them in a busy street or to obstruct traffic in any way.

Gomez said that the most important thing that people need to remember is that fireworks are dangerous, even the legal ones.

“Keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby just in case. And always know where the shower of sparks will go,” Gomez said.

Legal fireworks can be purchased at any of the licensed booths set up around town. Turlock has stricter fireworks regulations than the general fireworks rules enforced in all of California. The small noise-making fireworks known as “Whistling Petes” and “Piccolo Petes” are not allowed in city limits, even though they are for sale in other parts of Stanislaus County.

“We don't even have Whistling Petes in our catalog anymore,” said Sharon Winkler, who sells fireworks with the Pitman High School Band Booster Club at a booth in the McDonald’s parking lot on Geer Road.

Winkler said that the booster club had to attend a fireworks safety meeting and receive a permit to open their booth. Once the booth was open, it was inspected by the city fire marshal. 

“It's pretty well regulated. If anyone drove by and saw us breaking any rules we would be shut down forever,” Winkler said. 

The Stanislaus County Fireworks Safety Taskforce is asking that residents report illegal fireworks by calling the non-emergency dispatcher at 552-3911.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.