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The insanity of safe and sane fireworks

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POSTED June 11, 2014 12:41 a.m.

Modesto last month lost nine townhouses to a fast-moving grass fire.

Two rural Manteca homes also burned in May. Again, the cause was a wind-whipped grass fire.

Given the fact the traditional fire season is just getting started that’s more than an ominous sign.

It is also why you should be afraid – very afraid – when June 28 rolls around.

That’s when it is legal to buy and use safe and sane fireworks in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon.

Just to be clear local law has to comply with state law if fireworks are allowed. That means from noon on June 28 to midnight on July 4 fireworks can be sold and discharged at any time even at 4 a.m. on June 29 or 3 p.m. on July 1. Calling police during that time to complain about the legal and proper discharge of safe and sane fireworks is akin to calling and complaining about someone driving the speed limit through your neighborhood. It’s legal.

It’s not legal to discharge them in an unsafe manner nor is it legal at any time to use illegal fireworks, including bottle rockets.

For years individuals have put on a show in east Manteca in the neighborhood around Joshua Cowell School that tries to rival the city aerial fireworks display over Big League Dreams. So far no fires or injuries have been attributed to the illegal fireworks show. But this year may be the exception. Weeds and vegetation such as trees are extremely dry this year. It happens when you are in the third year of a severe drought.

Four years ago falling embers from illegal bottle rockets ignited a row of junipers that weren’t dried out in Raymus Village causing $22,000 in fire damage to a home.

The weather outlook for June 28 to July 4 calls for highs in the mid to upper 90s, low humidity and Delta breezes. Toss in drought ravaged vegetation and you have all the ingredients to turn this Fourth of July into a catastrophe.

Take a look around. The is dead grass four inches or so tall on several front yards on North Powers Avenue as well as other streets. There are plenty of shake roofs still around. Grass/weeds in fields and empty lots – although many have been cutback – are tinder dry.

In 2006 – the last year the Manteca City Council asked the fire department for a formal presentation on the impact of legal firework sales – there were 12 fires caused by fireworks in Manteca on the Fourth of July. Safe and sane fireworks caused seven of the fires. That was up from four in 2005 the first-year sales of safe and sane fireworks were allowed. From 1992 to 2004, Manteca Fire Department recorded 20 Fourth of July fires from safe and sane fireworks bought legally elsewhere and used illegally in Manteca, That wasn’t quite one fire per year.

Of the 12 fires in 2006, 10 were grass and vegetation fires, one was a garage fire, and the other was a dumpster fire. Two of the fires were caused by the improper disposal of spent fireworks. The garage fire was caused by children playing with safe and sane fireworks. That year a 10-year-old also sustained a minor injury from using fireworks on the Fourth of July.

That year authorities seized more than 200 illegal fireworks along with 1,000 firecrackers. The most significant incident was at Mayors Park. It involved the seizure of a homemade mortar canister with aerial shells. That is in addition to two massive shipments of fireworks – it is illegal to buy fireworks in another state and have them shipped into California by freight – seized at a Manteca trucking terminal.

That was up from 2005 when the only seizure of illegal fireworks was the 1,129 pieces of fireworks taken from a trunk of a car of an individual selling them on North Main Street.

There is reason to believe the sale of legal fireworks actually increased the sale and use of illegal fireworks which – even if used properly – are much more dangerous in terms of fire and injury potential.

It’s been 10 years since the sale of safe and sane fireworks were made legal in Manteca by the City Council. Used properly and in a courteous manner there is no problem.

The council, at the very least, should request an annual public accounting of fireworks incidents handled by police and fire from June 28 to July 4. That way they can assess on a year-to-year basis whether to allow the continued sale and use of safe and sane fireworks within the city limits.

Some argue making the sale illegal again would not be effective given their wide spread use. That may be true but our elected leaders have a moral obligation to at least monitor the situation and to then make decisions based on what is happening in the community.

There are a few calling for suspension of fireworks sales this year due to the drought. Politically, it’s little too late for that.

The fireworks companies are no dummies. They understood full well that putting a state law in place that only allowed non-profits to sell in communities approving safe and sane fireworks would create a powerful group to exert pressure on elected leaders. After all, what politician wants to look like they are against an organization that is helping kids, the poor or the elderly by banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks?

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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