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Property owners face citations in effort to stop illegal fireworks

Message boards and banners around town warn about citations to would-be violators of Merced's illegal fireworks ordinance.
Message boards and banners around town warn about citations to would-be violators of Merced’s illegal fireworks ordinance.

The campaign by Merced firefighters to stop the use of illegal fireworks is well under way now. This year the city’s firefighting force is using a new tactic to stem the tide of illicit fireworks, Merced Fire Department Chief Derek Parker says.

This year, when illegal fireworks are discovered, Merced firefighters will issue administrative citations to the property owners where the illegal activity is taking place and will not engage renters or those shooting off these devices.

Parker says use of illegal fireworks centers mainly around the Fourth of July but citizen complaints about these explosions go on all year.

For the month of June the chief explained firefighters were given the directive to patrol every day to find out where illegal fireworks are discharged. Using the Merced Connect “app” where residents can make complaints, firefighters locate the area of the complaint and then target that location. The city has message boards and banners around town warning about $1,000 citations to would-be violators.

These days even the “safe and sane” fireworks can cause injury and damage. There’s an eight-day grace period where safe and sane fireworks can be sold in the city of Merced. During this period firefighters have responded to 72 fireworks-caused fires and they fear having to respond to a number of fireworks calls on July 4 could draw them away from even more major fires erupting simultaneously.

Parker isn’t sure where people are obtaining these illegal fireworks and said law enforcement officers are tasked with finding the sources of this contraband.

“We don’t know where these fireworks are coming from but if we did that would be an easy fix,” Parker said.

There are three levels of administrative citations given to property owners. The first citation results in a $1,000 fine; the fine is $1,500 for a second offense and $2,000 for a third or subsequent violation. Parker said citing property owners is a significant change in policy but should be a good system to deter illegal fireworks.

He notes anyone wanting to surrender illegal fireworks may take them to the department’s Station 51 at 99 E. 16th St.

This year there will be 15 fireworks booths open across the city to sell safe and sane approved fireworks, 14 of them manned by non-profit groups. Safe and sane fireworks can be sold between noon June 28 and July 6 at noon.

Firefighters have posted a video on social media which shows the damage illegal fireworks can do. In 15 seconds a quarter-acre of grass was consumed in a fireworks-caused blaze and that spread to a half-acre in 30 seconds. Just under an acre of ground ultimately was scorched from the fireworks, Parker said.

“The amount of damage possible is incredible. People can be injured badly from fireworks and end up in the burn center in Fresno,” Parker said.

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