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Illegal fireworks crackdown underway
With California already a tender box, local fire officials will be aggressively looking out for those who use illegal fireworks this week in hopes of reducing fire dangers.

"Anything that flies, darts or explodes is not legal in the state of California," said Fire Chief Brian Nicholes. "If it's a Piccolo Pete and it whistles and does what it is supposed to do, or a Ground Bloom that spins on the ground, that's what we call a Safe and Sane firework. If it's something you shoot out of a tube and it leaves the ground, it's definitely an illegal device.

"You never know where these thigs are going to land."

Last year authorities instituted a "warning first" policy. Nicholes said his department visited a number of neighborhoods to issue warnings and seize illegal fireworks with the promise that a citation would be issued if they had to return. This year the citation book is coming out first.

"Once again we will be very aggressive with those using illegal fireworks. They're going off already. If we find you we will cite you."

Possession of certain fireworks can result in felony prosecution, fines of between $1,000 to $10,000 and jail time.

All firecrackers are illegal and are technically explosives, said Nicholes.

A number of states, including Nevada, sell fireworks that are illegal in California.

Officials are being more hard-lined this year, said Nicholes, because the state is very dry now and firefighting resources are very thin this year due to the vast amount of fires in California. Last week over 800 fires were being fought.

Nicholes said that fireworks that leave the ground can land on grass or trees or shake roofs and touch off vegetation and structure fires. If the device can be traced, the perpetrator can be financially responsible for the loss.

Residents are encouraged to buy only safe and sane fireworks that are permitted by the state. This year fireworks are being sold by 21 non-profit organizations at various booths scattered throughout Ceres.

The city of Ceres adopted a policy years ago of only allowing non-profit organizations to sell fireworks. For some, it has become a profitable way to raise funds. To qualify to be considered to have a fireworks booth, an organization must have been in operation for at least a year within the Ceres sphere of influence and have to have at least 10 members reside in the sphere. They must also have a state permit and state license from the fire marshall.

The city has developed a cap, based on population, on the number of booths being allowed. The actual number is actually over the present cap of 16 because many booths were grandfathered in when the policy was adopted.

"Many of the booths have been here at least ... 20 years or longer," said Nicholes.

State law this year allows sales from noon on June 28 to noon on July 6. Hours of sales are limited to 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. through July 5 and 9 a.m. to noon on July 6.

"They're pushing sales after the holiday because the Fourth falls on Friday and they're hoping people will still want to buy through the weekend."

Booths must abide by common sense regulations, such as no smoking around booths and keeping the area free of flammable materials and flames. Nicholes recalled the unsafe practice years ago of allowing Coleman lanterns in booths for night hours. Now booths can be illuminated only by generator or electricity outlets. Fireworks cannot be discharged near booths either.

Safe and safe fireworks are banned from certain counties, such as Tuolumne and Mariposa. The city of Watsonville also recently banned fireworks.