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26 cited by police for illegal fireworks
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Aerial fireworks displays were common all over Ceres on the Fourth of July but at least 26 offenders will soon be hit with financial pain after being cited with $1,000 citations by police. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

So with the new law allowing possessors of illegal fireworks to be socked with citations accompanied by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail, how did things go in Ceres on the Fourth of July?

Just as loud and illegal, it turns out. But 26 persons were socked with citations that may change the way they celebrate future Fourth of July holidays.

Ceres Police patrol officers issued the 26 citations on Tuesday alone after they caught the individuals lighting the illegal variety of fireworks. In California, anything that explodes or leaves the ground is illegal but that hasn't prevented some from smuggling contraband in from states and other countries where they may be legally purchased.

"It was ridiculous last night," said Ceres Police Sgt. James Yandell who worked on the holiday and heard the inordinate amount of explosions and aerial fireworks. "From a standpoint of fun it was like watching a show at Disneyland but it was all illegal. And it wasn't just one area of Ceres, it was all over town, the west side and the east side."

Yandell said Ceres firefighters were hopping all night running from call to call.

"The fire scanner was going crazy. They were non-stop running from one call to another."

A grass fire blackened some weeds and dry grasses in a lot near Sinclear Elementary School, said Yandell. A dumpster at the apartment complex at 1625 Richland Avenue also caught fire, believed to be caused by fireworks, he said. A fire also occurred in a residential backyard but he had no information on it.

On May 8 the Ceres City Council amended the municipal code to make mere possession of aerial fireworks citable as a misdemeanor in Ceres. Previously, Ceres firefighters and police officers had their hands tied when it came to cracking down on illegal fireworks, only able to cite those caught in the act of lighting the type of fireworks that explode or leave the ground on a state statute.

The problem with enforcing the fireworks law, said Sgt. Yandell is that many offenders saw patrol units arriving and quickly hid their contraband. In instances were citations were issued, some violators didn't see police coming because they were concentrating on lighting fuses, he said.

Ceres Police were unable to assemble a special team to crack down on fireworks violation because of staffing shortages and instead relied on existing patrol units. Ceres Fire Department also did their part but information about their citations was not available.

Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said that before the Ceres Municipal Code had changed, the city had been challenged to enforce the ban on illegal fireworks through a state Health and Safety Code that requires an officer to actually see someone light a fume. He said the state code was a "pretty high standard and difficult to enforce."

Ceres and Modesto moved toward changes in the municipal code this year to make possession of illegal fireworks a violation of local code. The move gives the cities "a lot more latitude and allow the city to set the fine not rather than relying what the state levels are and again the need to prosecute," said Wells.