City targeting illegal fireworks

Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate

Just in time for the Fourth: Fine going up

On the Fourth of July, some $30,000 worth of finely-tuned explosives will be launched by licensed pyrotechnic professionals from the Crescent City jetty, filling the night sky with that once-a-year sparkle and smoke.

If history is any indicator, children will gape, adults will ooh and ahh, dogs will cower. Thousands of visitors come to town every year to take in the spectacle.

Also every year, untold pounds of illegal fireworks sear the same smoky sky. People line the beaches with personal troves of explosives.

"We've had people's houses burn, fingers blown off," Mayor Kathryn

Murray said at this week's City Council meeting, at which the council

unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that will make amateurs who

set off any illegal fireworks in Crescent City limits accountable to the

tune of $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for the second and

$3,000 for the third.

Any fireworks that fly up in the air, explode or move about on the

ground are illegal, including firecrackers, M-80s, M-100s, bottle

rockets and roman candles. This ban isn't law just north of the Klamath -

it's statewide. The city's new ordinance, which only applies to people

caught with less than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks, wasn't drafted

from local minds, either.

It was then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor known for starring

alongside countless, glitzy explosions, who signed a 2007 bill into law,

allowing localities to impose steep fines. If someone is busted with

more than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks, they are subject to even more

seriously punitive state laws.

The law gives the state's "sane and safe" policy some punitive power

in city limits and also creates economic incentives for city officials

to enforce that policy. The fines collected would go to the city, rather

than the state's general fund.

"Although $1,000 may seem like a lot, if there's a seizure and we

forward (the fireworks) to the State Fire Marshal, it's really only $350

(for the city), which is probably barely the cost of an officer doing

this," said City Attorney Bob Black during the council discussion. He

explained that any illegal fireworks seized must be shipped off to the

state for disposal, which in conjunction with administrative costs,

burns up a majority of the cash destined for the city's strapped general

fund.

Crescent City resident Paul Dillard raised two concerns. One was that

with steep fines to fear, people will just "go off in the bushes," a

more dangerous setting for fireworks than the beach.

He also said: "My issue is timing. This is no new issue. This bill

was passed in 2007. Why is this such an emergent issue two weeks before

the Fourth? ... There's a lot of education that needs to be done before

you do this."

"We've done the education andhellip; It's now time for the enforcement. I

don't worry about the people that aren't going to stay here because they

wanted to do something illegally. I don't want them here in the first

place," Councilman Rich Enea said.

He has worked on a committee with Police Chief Doug Plack and others

to devise ways of preventing fireworks-related losses and injuries,

primarily by educating the public about what is and isn't permissible.

Examples of legal, "safe and sane" fireworks include: fountains,

sparklers, wheels, smoke and snake items, strobes, ground spinners,

novelty fireworks that do not travel in the air or on the ground,

snappers and caps.

Enea echoed Dillard's concerns about people sneaking off to the

bushes, as well as the relatively small area encompassed by city limits.

"If they go outside the city, the enforcement will effectively stop

and I'm a little bit concerned that if people take this seriously, they

may go into the wooded areas and shoot these fireworks," Enea said.

Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson said the county's policy is the

same as always - predominately complaint-driven, rather than the aim of

regular patrols on one of the busiest days of the year for local law

enforcement.

"Our priorities are anything that involves injury or violence. We get

a lot of drinking complaints, a good number of domestic violence calls,

unfortunately a lot of accidents, a large number missing persons ... a

lot of alcohol related offenses," he said.

The Sheriff's Office works closely with Cal-Fire to stop and seize

illegal fireworks displays, said Wilson.

Last year, the dispatcher fielded more than 200 calls on the Fourth

of July, and more than 100 pounds of illegal fireworks were seized.

In 2010, volunteers reported picking up over 2,000 pounds of trash on

the beaches in the aftermath of Independence Day.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at ecureton@triplicate.com .

14029938
The Del Norte Triplicate
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