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Fire Agencies Urge Caution

POSTED June 30, 2009 4:47 p.m.
The promise of hot temperatures and a Fourth of July holiday that lands on a Saturday has fire agencies gearing up for a busy — and fun — holiday but warn that being caught with illegal fireworks could result in fines that range from $500 to $5,000.
Oakdale City Fire Marshal Rick Fields said legal fireworks went on sale Sunday, June 28.
“All booths in Oakdale are non-profit, the booths only sell fireworks approved by the State Fire Marshal,” Fields said, adding that the Oakdale Fire department is the local agency that inspected and issued permitting for the booths inside the city limits. Fireworks may only be sold by approved organizations from approved booths.
“Any firework that does not have the State Fire Marshal’s seal of approval are illegal,” Fields warned. “Any fireworks that explode or are projected into the air are illegal. Any legal firework that has been modified is also illegal.”
Violations may either be misdemeanors or felonies depending on the offense and could carry jail sentences. Fines are governed by the State Health and Safety Code and Local Ordinance.
Citing the success of the approach taken in Stanislaus County the last four years, local Stanislaus County fire and law enforcement officials announced a “Zero Tolerance” policy toward illegal fireworks and announced that they are targeting the users and sellers of illegal fireworks with increased fines and penalties, including a minimum $1,000 fine in the City of Modesto.
Reflecting back on the Fourth of July, 2004, one of the worst ever throughout the state for illegal fireworks, local public safety officials said that they would not tolerate a repeat performance of what happened in so many communities that year, particularly with the dry conditions that exist throughout the area.
“We saw illegal fireworks use at an all-time high all over the state in 2004,” said Modesto Fire Marshal Michael Payton. “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 won’t put up with it. We intend to put a stop to it.”
According to media reports and fire officials in many communities throughout California, over the last several years, on the Fourth of July, when people have looked up into the sky they have witnessed dazzling, brilliant fireworks exploding above there.
“Unfortunately, these pyrotechnics weren’t from organized, public displays,” recounted Payton. “They were the illegal variety. We are determined to put a stop to this dangerous practice.”
In an effort to try to stress the seriousness posed by the use of these dangerous, illegal fireworks and to bring the message home to potential would-be Stanislaus County area celebrants on how serious local law enforcement and fire officials view this subject, Interim Police Chief Mike Harden announced on behalf of all participating law enforcement and fire agencies in the Stanislaus County area, “Once again, the task force will be deploying the largest number of dedicated teams of police, fire and sheriff officers to issue citations to individuals found to be possessing and/or using illegal fireworks, confiscating those fireworks, and where the amount of illegal fireworks is of sufficient quantity or severity, arresting those individuals and transporting them to the county jail.”
In order to get its request out to the public to help identify those using or trafficking illegal fireworks, the task force is asking the public to report illegal fireworks use at the following non-emergency dispatch number: 552-3911.
According to Stanislaus County prosecutors, serious violators convicted of possession or use of illegal fireworks will face up to three years of informal probation as well as county jail time. These guidelines will apply equally to both adult and juvenile offenders irrespective of quantity of illegal fireworks the violators are found to be using or possessing.
“It is our intent,” stated Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, “that any punishment may be increased if the defendant is found to have a prior criminal record or if the facts support child endangerment charges. In any cases prosecuted as felonies because of the amount, type or way in which the illegal fireworks or explosives were used, we plan to pursue state prison commitments, particularly if the defendant has a prior criminal record.”
As a result of new legislation (SB 839) effective Jan. 1, 2008, depending on the gross weight of illegal fireworks found to be in possession of the suspect, this activity can be punishable with a fine of up to $550 and/or not more than one year imprisonment in a state prison or county jail. Parents may be held liable for any damage or injury caused by their children using illegal fireworks.
In California, the Office of the State Fire Marshal engages in an extensive testing and approval process of a limited variety of fireworks that are known and labeled as “Safe and Sane” fireworks but are more commonly referred to as “State Fire Marshal-Approved,” or “State-Approved Fireworks.” These “State-Approved Fireworks” may be identified by the State Fire Marshal Seal found on the individual firework or the boxes containing them. California law allows each city or county to determine whether they will permit these state-approved fireworks to be sold or used in their jurisdiction. Currently, there are 272 communities in California that permit state-approved fireworks to be sold and used every Fourth of July.
The Stanislaus County Fireworks Safety Task Force is a safety coalition composed of representatives of the fire service throughout Stanislaus County, the 187 non-profit organizations who sell state-approved fireworks in the area, the Stanislaus County Sheriffs Department, the Modesto Police Department and the state-approved fireworks industry. The Task Force was formed in early 2005 at the urging of the Modesto Fire Department and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District in response to the large number of illegal fireworks activity on the Fourth of July, 2004.

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