Editorial: Hot, dry days and illegal fireworks are like playing with matches

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 2, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 3, 2014 - 5:30 am

Hot, dry days are never good for firefighters or for people who live in the foothills and mountains, or suburbia, for that matter.

Mix in illegal fireworks, and fire could quickly spread out of control; it happens every year, especially around July Fourth. This year’s drought will only make matters worse.

California policymakers have tried for years to come up with a strategy for confronting the use of illegal fireworks. They need to redouble that effort.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators inserted $1.5 million into this year’s budget to destroy illegal fireworks that are sitting in state warehouses. That’s a nice start, but it’s hardly sufficient.

Authorities regularly set up stings and checkpoints to seize illegal fireworks. In the first five months of this year, California authorities confiscated 350,000 pounds of illegal fireworks. If that represents even 10 percent of the total, the math suggests the magnitude of the problem.

Unsafe and illegal fireworks flow into the state from ports, and from points east. Authorities believe much of the problem comes from the half-dozen large retailers on the other side of the Nevada-California border in the town of Pahrump, where regulations allow for the sale of far more dangerous fireworks than are permitted in California.

Costa Mesa police last month arrested a Las Vegas man who had 500 pounds of illegal fireworks and was selling them from a U-Haul trailer in a liquor store parking lot. He supposedly bought the fireworks from a Pahrump retailer.

Police from the Los Angeles County city of El Monte confiscated 10 tons of illegal fireworks last month in a single haul, and 22 tons in another seizure, The Los Angeles Times reported. In May, authorities seized 30 tons of illegal fireworks from a Monterey Park warehouse.

California’s strict environmental laws and regulations complicate disposal. The state ships much of its haul of illegal fireworks to an incinerator in Louisiana for destruction.

A bill signed in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to establish a process for collecting revenue and disposing of illegal fireworks. But state regulations to implement that law still have not been drafted.

Legislation stalled last month that would impose a fee on legal fireworks sales to pay for ongoing costs of disposal.

Illegal fireworks might not be the most pressing problem confronting California, but it’s hardly insignificant. Lawmakers need to find time to develop a plan for dealing with it. That includes paying for the destruction of illegal fireworks.

Meanwhile, people who feel a need to see fireworks on July Fourth ought to attend one of the many shows in the area put on by professionals, or patronize stands that sell legal fireworks, and use them responsibly.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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