After a fire believed to have been caused by illegal fireworks tore through a Lathrop home late Monday night – burning the garage, a portion of the kitchen, the connecting attic and a car in the driveway – the Lathrop Manteca Fire District is saying enough is enough.
They’re bringing out the big guns.
According to Battalion Chief Larry Madoski, the district is looking into employing a mobile remote-controlled drone next year during the Fourth of July holiday as part of a task force that will seek those who are lighting illegal fireworks to prevent any more unnecessary fires or property losses that are attributed to them.
Madoski said the number of calls for service related to illegal fireworks responded to by firefighters declined this year – from 12 in 2015 to only 5 in the run up to the Fourth of July holiday – but noted that a preliminary investigation into the structure fire late Monday night on Merelson Court. has determined that they were a factor.
The location of where the fire started, he said, is still under investigation, but noted that when three engine companies from Lathrop Manteca Fire District and one from the Manteca Fire Department responded, a vehicle in the front of the house was on fire and there were flames coming from the garage and the eve of the attic space. The firewall contained the majority of the fire and allowed crews to extinguish it before it spread fully through the rest of the house, but the majority of the home suffered smoke damage.
The logistics of the program will have to be worked out of the course of the next 12 months, but Madoski said that the district will be working in conjunction with Lathrop Police Services and employing all of their resources to prevent something like that from happening again.
“The Chief (Gene Neely) and I have talked about this and we’re going to pushing for a significant overhaul of how we look at these types of calls,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at a long of things and the resources that we have available, but it’s something that we’re definitely going to work to put a stop to.”
Neely echoed Madoski’s sentiments in a statement about employing the use of aerial drone to catch people firing off illegal fireworks.
“We will use every tool we have at our disposal to catch people using illegal fireworks and when we do we plan on fining them to the fullest extent of the law,” Neely said.
While cities like Manteca and Ripon have passed resolutions that allow their city attorneys to prosecute the cases apart from the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, the amount of aerial fireworks being used by residents did not appear to decrease. Ripon specifically wrote the new ordinance to give them a hands-on approach towards making sure those that are caught are actually fined while Manteca partnered with Safe-and-Sabe fireworks manufacturer TNT to pilot a program that allows residents to capture videos and pictures and pinpoint locations that are then fined $750 – or more depending on the number of infractions – with the backing of an administrative law judge.
Madoski said that the district will look at partnering with Sherriff’s deputies as well as off-duty firefighters to patrol the streets looking for those who are responsible in the hopes that errant grass fires – which they have had this year and attributed them to illegal fireworks – and even structure fires like the one on Monday night can be prevented.
And the use of a remote quadcopter or drone by a local fire district isn’t a new concept.
The Ripon Consolidated Fire District has considered using one to make patrols along the Stanislaus River at night to utilize an infrared camera to find people who may be lost on the river – a call that is not uncommon for fire crews during the warm summer months when people misjudge the distance of their river float adventures or lose their bearings on the river. Because on the manpower involved and the risks of being on the water at night, Fire Chief Dennis Bitters has suggested using the remote controlled device to spot people then send units accordingly rather than using kayaks to float through the shallow portions of the river.