After what was described as a “free-for-all” with illegal fireworks in 2016, the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District proposed tighter regulations and stiffer penalties for those who were caught violating the reworked policy.
And the Lathrop City Council signed on – structuring the ordinance so that City Attorney Salvador Navarrete could prosecute those that were found to be in violation, and agreeing to implement a change that will make the property owners where illegal fireworks are being used responsible for the fines.
But that didn’t prevent people who were being cited this past Fourth of July by Fire Chief Gene Neely from lighting fireworks and throwing them at his vehicle in protest – resulting in a call for police assistance that was widely circulated on social media.
And now Neely is going back to the drawing board to try and figure out a way to implement something that makes a difference.
“We’re going to meet with Lathrop Police Services and see if we can get on the same page and within the next few council meetings we’ll be coming back to make recommendations,” Neely said. “We’re either going to have to be stronger with the enforcement or have to look at maybe not having fireworks at all.
“That’s a tough line because there are a lot of volunteer groups that benefit from fireworks sales, but we’re going to have to do something from a public safety standpoint.”
The way that the City of Lathrop’s fireworks ordinance is currently written, the district is one of the only entities in the community that is guaranteed a permit to allow for the sale of safe-and-sane fireworks – the booth organized and staffed by the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association which raises money for established community programs like Christmas for Kids, which makes sure that less fortunate children in the community get a family meal and a toy during the holidays.
But in addition to running into issues with illegal aerial fireworks, Neely said he personally has seen people misusing safe-and-sane fireworks as well – the night in which he had people throwing lit fireworks at him he observed people lighting fountains off of ladders which increases the fire dangers immensely.
“When they’re elevated like that, it raises the potential for people to be burned,” Neely said. “The higher it is positioned, the larger the ember cast – and a gust of wind can come up and blow those embers onto a lawn or into an open car or even into an open window if the wind is strong enough.
“If that happens we’re then fighting a structure fire instead of just a grass fire or responding to a burn call. These are things that most people don’t think about when they’re trying to get a better viewing angle with their families.”
Lathrop’s reworked ordinance, which was designed to prevent cases referred for prosecution to the District Attorney from being dismissed because of a lack of resources, came just before San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar announced the formation of a task force that would make eradicating illegal fireworks a top priority in San Joaquin County.
Even with the additional support, Neely said that this celebration season was the worst he had ever seen – simply overwhelming responders who couldn’t keep up with the number of calls that were coming in.
“The county is working with all of the agencies towards a common goal, and we’re a part of that,” Neely said. “But we’re going to have to take a look and everything and see what we can do to stop this before it gets even worse.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.