You hear the illegal fireworks last night? Here’s what Merced County fire, police saw

Independence Day fireworks were once again not confined to the sanctioned displays in Merced County — a development that is getting worse each year, officials say.

Law enforcement and fire officials all over the county used extra personnel to crack down on illegal fireworks — those fireworks classified by officials as anything that explodes or flies in the air.

Livingston had its own sanctioned fireworks show. But that didn’t deter some in the city from lighting off their own illegal fireworks.

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Courtesy Livingston Police Department

“The problem with these fireworks are they are getting worse and worse every year,” said Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez, adding he has reached out to Senator Anna Caballero and Assemblyman Adam Gray on the possibility of pursuing legislation to cut down on illegal displays.

Livingston police received 28 complaints of fireworks between 6 p.m. Thursday night and 6 a.m. Friday morning, Chavez said, also issuing seven citations and confiscating fireworks. Two fireworks-related grass fires were quickly put out.

“It’s one of those illegal activities that seems family-friendly and fun,” Chavez said. “But for those with dogs, and people with PTSD, it’s not. They’ve complained because these things impact their mental health.”

On the county’s Westside, Los Banos police issued 25 citations for illegal fireworks totaling more than $26,500 in fines between 6 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, according to a news release.

One of those citations was for illegal fireworks sales on social media — a $50 fine. Four were for unlawful discharge of fireworks at $50 each, and 21 citations were for dangerous fireworks resulting in $1,250 fines.

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Courtesy Los Banos Police Department

Los Banos police staffed seven officers, including two code enforcement officers, specifically for fireworks enforcement. Six officers handled patrol and non-fireworks related calls.

The Merced City Fire Department worked with Merced police to enforce a zero tolerance policy Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Firefighters battled four vegetation fires believed to have been caused by fireworks, Merced Fire Chief Billy Alcorn said.

The number of citations or amount of fireworks confiscated in Merced during those two days weren’t available Friday, Sgt. Joseph Weiss said.

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Courtesy Merced County Cal Fire

The number of fire incidents and fireworks-related citations and fines in unincorporated Merced County and the City of Atwater also weren’t available Friday, Merced County Cal Fire Battalion Chief David Scheurich said. He noted additional personnel were still on patrol for illegal fireworks Friday.

“I didn’t see much activity as far as fires and injuries,” Scheurich said, adding he hopes the increased enforcement and public outreach helped. “I would say it’s better (than previous years) in that way.”

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Courtesy Merced County Cal Fire
Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.