The use of illegal fireworks has become so blatant that while Manteca firefighters earlier this week were combating a grass fire caused by fireworks there were fireworks being fired over them while flames were still flickering.
Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Marques said firefighters determined where the fireworks were being launched from and seized ones that had yet to be fired. The incident happened in the neighborhood north of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church along Alameda Street.
Marques said the city has also seized a number of other illegal fireworks.
The incident underscores concerns of Manteca officials that the use of illegal fireworks — pyrotechnics designed or modified to take flight or move — will be worse this year due to the Fourth of July falling on a Saturday and people itching for entertainment during the pandemic.
Law enforcement and fire officials started patrolling Manteca Tuesday night for illegal fireworks. They have already issued several citations that will cost offenders $1,000 a pop.
“We will be out every night through the end of the weekend,” Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd said.
That includes on Sunday, the night after the Fourth of July.
Law enforcement teams are armed with more than 200 addresses the city has gleaned so far from people that have downloaded the “Nail ‘Em” app and used it to provide GPS information on where illegal fireworks are being shot off. That information is then forwarded to the fire marshal who is compiling a map so enforcement teams will be in verified “hot areas” for illegal fireworks when they are fired off.
The app works on Apple and Android phones.
Under a city law put in place four years ago and upheld by the courts, all officers simply need to make is a GPS stamped video recording and move on allowing them to follow up with mailed citations. They do not have to make contact with either a homeowner or the person renting the property where illegal fireworks are launched.
The city’s host ordinance requires only that the property where fireworks are launched from be identified and not the person actually setting off the fireworks. Not only is that significantly easier to verify, but because it is through the administrative process and not the court system the citations are resolved fairly quickly with the city prevailing in the vast majority of cases.
Almost every citation that has been issued in the past four years has resulted in the person in control of the property where they were launched from, whether it was a homeowner or a renter, being successfully slapped with a $750 fine plus being assessed with all the costs the city incurred citing and prosecuting the case bringing the total tab to $1,000 per offense.
Twenty-five citations were issued last year that resulted in the homeowners or renters involved each having to pay $1,000. Manteca in the last four years has nailed 71 people for illegal fireworks.
Those reporting the illegal fireworks often get frustrated that they call and the illegal fireworks keep going off.
There are two things to keep in mind. After years of playing cat and mouse, law enforcement realized they could rarely respond in time or let alone catch the actual person shooting them off in the act. That is why city leaders switched to the host ordinance that has seen a six-fold increase in people being cited.
The hope is enough citations are issued that people using illegal fireworks will get the message. Shipherd can point to areas in Manteca that once were not spots for illegal fireworks no longer having them as a problem. That means the more help the city has at pinpointing locations this year the better chance your neighborhood could be quieter next year.
The city ordinance regarding when Safe and Sane fireworks — those that are legal — can be used has to comply with state law if they are allowed in a city. That means legal fireworks can be used technically 24 hours over the seven days fireworks sales take place in Manteca from noon on Sunday, June 28, to midnight on July 4.
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