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Lathrop targeting illegal fireworks

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POSTED March 6, 2017 12:26 a.m.

It used to be that if police officers or firefighters would respond to a scene where somebody was lighting off illegal fireworks and they couldn’t prove who was responsible, they would have to walk away. 

That could change tonight as the Lathrop City Council discusses adopting a stricter ordinance that will allow responders to cite tenants and property owners that allow the use of illegal fireworks on their property. 

And once those citations are issued, if the ordinance is approved, it will be the Lathrop City Attorney prosecuting the cases in San Joaquin Superior Court – eliminating the need to forward the case on to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office for recommendation, where a large number of those cases are often not taken because of more pressing needs and a lack of overall resources. 

While their use has always been an issue and a matter of concern for firefighters, the amount of illegal fireworks that were set off last year was enough for Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely to go beyond the existing city ordinance and push more stringent rules to prevent structure and grass fires that may be caused by errant aerial fireworks. 

The initial concern centered around the extremely dry conditions that were a result of four years of continuous drought in California – circumstances that are unlikely be duplicated this year during the hot summer months – but the threat of injury and of fire is still real enough to warrant the strengthening of the existing ordinance. Rather than rework the ordinance already on the books that prohibits the use of illegal fireworks – anything that can be shot into the air or things that explode like traditional firecrackers – the proposal in front of the council tonight only adds a section that allows “hosts” or tenants and property owners that allow the use of illegal fireworks on their property to be cited. 

The concern was so bad after last year’s Fourth of July season that Neely authorized the purchase of an aerial drone that will allow firefighters to get an elevated perspective of people shooting them off in backyards and take footage that can use used to aid in a prosecution. 

Last year local firefighters confiscated cases of illegal fireworks in Lathrop alone – complementing a Manteca Police bust where an entire truckload of fireworks was discovered before it could make it onto the streets. 

Even with those seizures some residents still complained that it sounded “like a war zone” on the night of Independence Day, and Facebook was rife with comments about how the unauthorized use of them continued well into the week following the celebration. 

Both Lathrop and Manteca allow the regulated sale of Safe and Sane fireworks by non-profits that receive a license through a drawing – allowing those groups to raise large amounts of money for their respective organizations in just a short period. 

Last year the City of Manteca employed a new system that was provided by one of the largest safe-and-sane fireworks manufacturers that allowed users of an app to pinpoint where illegal fireworks were being used, and even take video to prove that it was in fact occurring. The use of the app led to many more citations than are traditionally issued, and it generated more money than usual in fines after the Manteca City Council bolstered the fine for those who are caught in an attempt to crack down on illegal fireworks.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com or call 209.249.3544. 


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