Celebrate legally, authorities say, outlawed fireworks carry fine

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJuly 3, 2013 


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Fireworks go on sale today and emergency services personnel want the public to know what's allowed, what's not allowed and the fines for setting off illegal pyrotechnics.

"We have fliers that are given to everyone buying fireworks," Fire Chief Chet Guintini said. "We require the people selling fireworks to physically show them the rules."

It is illegal to set off fireworks in Los Banos before July 1 and after July 4. Within the four-day period, fireworks are allowed, but only between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Police Chief Gary Brizzee said many people disregard the city ordinance.

"It is a nuisance all year 'round. We get a number of calls we have to respond to of people who think they heard gunshots," Brizzee said, "and it's unsettling to the community because it makes people think they live in a place where there's gunshots all the time."

Los Banos, which recently entered into an agreement with Merced County to collect unpaid money from citations it issues, has a $1,250 fine in place for use of illegal fireworks. Brizzee said undercover officers and law enforcement in uniform will saturate the city in the next week searching for people using illegal pyrotechnics.

"You're shooting off bottle rockets and next thing you know you will have a $1,250 fine," Brizzee warned.

Guintini said some people do not realize they have illegal fireworks while others are fully aware.

"Most people go out of state and bring it across state lines. They figure it's legal there, (so) it must be legal here," he said. "Other people know exactly what they're doing."

Officials said that only "Safe and Sane" fireworks, bearing the state fire marshal's seal of approval, are legal.

Fire officials are urging residents to take extra precautions this year because of extremely dry conditions.

"It's not going to take much for a firework to get in the grass. It could easily start a fire," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Even "Safe and Sane" fireworks can be dangerous if not handled carefully, said Berlant.

He said families should make sure that the area where fireworks are ignited is clear of grass and vegetation and should keep a bucket of water nearby to soak used fireworks — to make sure they are extinguished.

Officials urge residents to be aware of the wind factor when setting off fireworks.

"If it's a windy day and embers travel to your neighbor's roof, that's how fires are started," said Michelle Eidam, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

Guintini downplayed weather-related dangers.

"It's typically pretty hot here in July," he said. "I don't think it will cause added problems."

But Brizzee cautioned anyone setting off fireworks to be careful.

Put safety first with fireworks:

• Check with the Police Department to determine which types of fireworks are legal.

• Never buy or use illegal fireworks. Their quality cannot be assured.

• Only adults should light fireworks.

• Never hold lighted fireworks with your hand or place them near the body.

• Always have water handy in case of a fire, such as a hose hooked to a faucet, or a nearby bucket of water.

• Read the caution label on packaging before igniting.

• Wear safety eyewear when using fireworks.

• Soak used fireworks in water before discarding.

• Never try to relight a firework.

• If you are injured using fireworks, seek immediate medical attention.

• Never allow young children to play with or go near fireworks, including sparklers. They seem harmless but sparklers can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees.

• Never handle fireworks if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

American consumers purchased more than 212 million pounds of fireworks in 2011, up from 184.4 million pounds in 2010, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that:

• There were more than 18,700 injuries caused by fireworks in 2012, including 7,332 emergency department visits.

• Thirty-six percent of the estimated emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries in 2011 were individuals younger than age 20.

• The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers (46 percent of injuries); eyes (17 percent); head, face and ears (17 percent); and legs (11 percent).

• More than half of the emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries were burns.

• There were 1,100 emergency department-treated injuries associated with sparklers and 300 with bottle rockets. "Many people consider consumer fireworks to be harmless fun, when in fact they can be extremely dangerous especially when used by or near children and adolescents," said Boston orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson Tamara Rozental, MD. "If caution is not used, and safety guidelines are not adhered to, fireworks can cause serious injuries to the hands and fingers as well as the eyes.'

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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