STOCKTON – The first two times that the San Joaquin Metropolitan Bomb Squad hit the ignition switch Monday morning at the Stockton Airport to light an M-80 attached to a watermelon, they fizzled out.
The successful third try not only destroyed the watermelon but sent a concussion that made even those who knew it was going to happen flinching backward.
The message? Illegal fireworks are dangerous.
In a press conference Monday morning, members of the San Joaquin County Joint Illegal Fireworks Task Force, headed by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, warned residents of San Joaquin County and the cities contained within to make sure that illegal fireworks aren’t part of their formula for fun during the upcoming Fourth of July celebration taking place next month.
Anchored by tables containing more than 200 pounds of illegal fireworks that were confiscated from a home last week, speakers including San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar and San Joaquin County Sherriff Steve Moore encouraged people to think twice before lighting fireworks that leave the ground or explode – citing safety concerns, fire danger and the unexpected impact on those with PTSD and pets as the reasons why people should abstain.
“Every year I don’t look forward to the Fourth of July, and when it comes I’m indoors and I take medication to help me sleep that night,” said Tino Adame, a Vietnam Veteran from Stockton who said the sounds of the explosions reminds him and his fellow veterans of taking mortar fire. “It seems like it has been getting worse in recent years, and it’s now the week before and the week after.
“I think that it’s good that they’re doing this today, because people need to be reminded about how this affects people.”
And Manteca is definitely not immune from the trafficking of illegal fireworks.
Manteca Fire Chief Lantz Rey, who serves on the task force, said that the city has confiscated as much as 2,000 pounds of fireworks at one time in the past, and noted specific instances where aerial fireworks have contributed to structure fires.
While fire was a concern during the drought years, it’s even more of an issue this year now that the abundant rainfall – including rain that fell on Sunday throughout the valley – has allowed grasses to grow much taller, and the heat expected to roll across the region at the end of the week will dry all of those weeds out very quickly.
“I think this task force is a step in the right direction,” Rey said of combatting the issue that is illegal fireworks. “We have more resources at our disposal now, and we know who we’re going to be working with in the county and who is going to be prosecuting the cases.
“We’re all working together on this.”
According to Rey, the Manteca Fire Department has moved up its weed abatement efforts this year to May 1 so that all of the issued citations and compliance work will be completed by July 4 – attempting to head off any grass fire issues that the use of illegal fireworks contribute to.
This will also be the second year that the City of Manteca will employ a “social host” ordinance that will allow police and fire officials to cite property owners where illegal fireworks are observed in use – stepping up the fine to $750.
The fact that the District Attorney’s office is on board with prosecuting the cases, Rey said, is important to making a dent in an increasing problem.
“That’s definitely a key component in enforcement,” Rey said. “It makes for a strong deterrent.”
Verber-Salazar said that the joint effort all agencies involved in the task force is what will make the effort successful.
“This is something that impacts children, people with disabilities, pets and veterans with PTSD and other war-related issues,” she said. “It impacts our senior community as well, and we want to make this a holiday that everybody can enjoy.
“It’s America’s Day – and every American should have the chance to enjoy it. We need to be respectful of that.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.