Crime - Sacto 911

Task force cracks down on illegal fireworks in Sacramento region

Before you buy any fireworks to celebrate this Fourth of July, make sure that they have the "Safe and Sane" seal – otherwise, they are illegal in the state of California.

On Thursday, Sacramento Public Safety Agencies held a news conference warning against illegal fireworks. The event was held in front of a scorched grassland at the end of Bothwell Drive in the Vineyard community. Ten acres of the field were set ablaze last Thursday by illegal fireworks, authorities said.

"I looked out my back slider and I saw all these flames coming towards my house," said Linda Oster, a homeowner who lives less than fifty feet from where the fire occurred. As she watched embers fly into the trees in her backyard, she almost left her house for fear it might catch fire – but the fire was put up before any homes were damaged or people were injured.

"We were darn lucky," Oster said.

Steve Johnson, arson investigator and a member of the Greater Sacramento Area Fireworks Task Force, says that in his 15 years on the task force, he's watched illegal fireworks sales and incidents rise. According to Johnson, part of the increase may be due to the increased prevalence of sites like Craigslist and Facebook that allow sellers to connect with buyers.

The task force, now in it's 27th year, is a joint collaboration between the public safety agencies throughout the Sacramento area and firework companies TNT, Phantom, and Discount Fireworks. Their goal is to promote the use of legal, "Safe and Sane" fireworks and combat illegal firework sales and usage.

In addition to spreading information about illegal fireworks, in the days leading up to July 4th, members of the task force will be conducting enforcement patrols around Sacramento and confiscating illegal fireworks.

According to Johnson, you can tell a firework is illegal if it flies into the air, explodes, or emits sparks that go beyond a ten-foot radius. The only legal fireworks for sale in Sacramento County are sold by suppliers TNT, Phantom, and Discount Fireworks, and they have a "Safe and Sane" seal from the Office of the California State Fire Marshal. It's also illegal to set off Safe and Sane fireworks in adjacent counties where all fireworks are banned.

Anyone who is caught possessing or setting off illegal fireworks will be prosecuted, Oster said, which could bring a minimum of a year in jail with fines upwards of $1,000 – there are stiffer penalties if the person caught in possession of illegal fireworks has a criminal record, or has endangered children around them.

As of June 28, there are nearly 200 booths all around the county selling safe, legal fireworks. They are mostly run by local non-profit organizations, many of which rely the funds the receive from firework sales to put on programming throughout the year.

The First Apostolic Church has been running a firework booth out of Citrus Heights for twenty years – they use the money they earn all year to take kids on field trips and send missionaries to over 130 countries and buy things like new playground equipment.

The booths are certified for use by fire inspectors from Metro Fire, who check that they have all the proper permits and signage, fire extinguishers, and are a safe distance from things that may prove fire hazards, like cars. Beyond Thursday when sales began, the city of Sacramento limits fireworks booth to operating from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, June 29 through July 4.

Some other tips for fireworks safety in the city of Sacramento:

More helpful tips

But using "safe and sane" fireworks isn't the only safety tip needed, as many of the fireworks injuries and accidents that occur are attributed to legal and readily-available products. Both the city of Sacramento and the National Safety Council offer tips on how to keep the whole family safe when using fireworks at home, which are amended below.

  • Read and follow all fireworks label directions.

  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

  • Light only one firework at a time - always outdoors - in a clear and open space. Never ignite devices in a container, on a ladder, trash can or other elevated surface, or on a wooden fence.

  • Always maintain a safe distance from people, structures, vehicles, and any flammable materials.

  • Keep a bucket of water and a garden hose or fire extinguisher nearby in order to fully extinguish a malfunctioning firework, if needed.

  • Never attempt to re-light or fix a “dud” firework. Properly dispose of fireworks. Douse spent fireworks with water. Soak unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding. Do not use fireworks purchased in years past.

  • Children should be closely supervised around fireworks. Never allow children to handle or ignite fireworks. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the end of a sparkler burns at more than 1,200 degrees! Glow sticks are a safer alternative. Older children should use fireworks only under close adult supervision.

  • Animals tend to become frightened by the lights and sounds of fireworks. Keep animals in a safe and secure location, away from firework activity. The SPCA offers several tips on how to keep pets safe and secure during the holiday celebrations.

  • Always have a plan to get everyone away from the area if a fire should occur and make sure everyone is aware of the plan. Also, designate someone responsible for phoning 911 in case of an emergency.

Ultimately, most of the safety groups and local fire departments recommend attending public fireworks displays in order to stay safe and to avoid any unintended non-compliance with local, state and federal laws. Fortunately, there are lots of Fourth of July events in the area.

If you do decide to put on your own display and you're wondering which fireworks offer the best show for your dough, The Bee's summer interns recently participated in our annual fireworks test and review.

The Bee's Daniel Wilson contributed to this report.
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