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Nearly 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks seized, 7 arrested in Cal Fire bust

See one of the largest seizures of illegal fireworks in California history

A three-year investigation resulted in the seizure of 49,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in California, one of the largest amounts in state history according to Cal Fire.
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A three-year investigation resulted in the seizure of 49,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in California, one of the largest amounts in state history according to Cal Fire.

Almost 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks were seized and seven people arrested over the last two weeks following a years-long investigation into an illegal fireworks ring operating throughout the state, Cal Fire announced Thursday.

The seizure, which is one of the largest in Cal Fire history, is the result of an investigation spanning three years and involving 80 investigators who performed "significant surveillance," said Shane Cunningham, Cal Fire's chief of law enforcement.

At a news conference on the steps of the Capitol, Cunningham said the investigation identified suspects who had been running an illegal fireworks ring for at least 30 years, importing and selling aerial fireworks from Nevada and Montana.

The illegal fireworks include Roman candles, sky rockets, bottle rockets and firecrackers, he said.

Law enforcement served 10 search warrants and seized fireworks in Copperopolis, Modesto, Salida, Hayward Walnut Creek and Oakland, Cal Fire said.

Officers also seized $115,000, a load of illegal fireworks ready to be transported, and a variety of computers, cellphones and firearms. In Oakland, officers found an explosive device, Cal Fire said.

The suspects were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor and felony charges, Cunningham said.

The suspects are Jack Schroll and Tonya Adele Schroll, Michael Solorio, Larry Lista, Donald Cerasi, Leon Cerasi and Maria San.

They have been booked into the Calaveras County jail.

Cal Fire is holding the stockpile of illegal fireworks until they can be disposed of.

The disposal of illegal fireworks is expensive because they are deemed hazardous waste by the state and have to be transported out of state so a hazardous waste facility can dispose of them, said State Fire Marshal Dennis Mathisen.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to increase funding to stop the use of illegal fireworks in his May budget revision, and Cal Fire is working with the Legislature to get more funding for the disposal of illegal fireworks.

Cal Fire's announcement comes just weeks before Independence Day and the sale of "safe and sane" fireworks in some parts of the state, such as fountains, sparklers and noisemakers.

On July Fourth, in a typical year, fireworks account for two out of every five reported fires in the U.S., more than any other cause, Cal Fire said in a press release Thursday.

"On average each year, fireworks in California start 18,500 fires. These fires, on average, cause three deaths, 40 civilian injuries, and $43 million in direct property damage," Cal Fire said.

Following the worst wildfire epidemic in the state's history, "this state can't afford this kind of ordnance in our streets," said state Sen. Henry Stern, calling illegal fireworks "weapons of wildfire."

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM

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