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34 fined $2,500 for illegal fireworks
• Holiday weekend keeps police, fire busy
cypress trees on fire
Illegal fireworks ignited tall Italian Cypress trees between driveways on Rushing River Drive on the Fourth of July. The call was dispatched as a structure fire. - photo by Courtesy of Ceres Fire Dept.

The threat of a citation carrying a $2,500 fine didn’t thwart many residents from lighting illegal fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend in Ceres while firefighters were busy running around putting out fires caused by them.

Ceres Police issued 34 citations for illegal fireworks which will cost $2,500 for each violator. One citation was issued on Friday, five on Saturday and 28 on Sunday, the Fourth of July.

Earlier this year the Ceres City Council increased the fine for violations from $1,000 to $2,500 in response to citizens urging tougher actions against those setting off loud explosions and aerial fireworks. In 2020 Ceres Police cited 38 individuals for using illegal fireworks and 53 in 2019.

Ceres Police received 181 calls to report illegal fireworks from Friday to Sunday. The department also ran four to six extra officers per night over the weekend.

“Aerials and explosions were out of control throughout the county as far as the ear could hear,” said Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins. “The sheer volume of illegal fireworks was overwhelming.  I am, however, proud of the work and effort the officers and professional staff did to combat illegal fireworks in Ceres.”

From 5 a.m. on Sunday, July 4 to 5 a.m. the next day, Ceres Fire was dispatched to 30 calls for service, including three structure fires, 10 vegetation fires, a trash fire, and a vehicle accident on Service Road west of Mitchell Road where a vehicle that caught on fire.

“The vast majority of our fires were fireworks related,” said Ceres Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa. 

Illegal fireworks ignited a row of Italian Cypress trees between driveways on Rushing River Drive. Firefighters worked to put it out quickly because the fire was throwing out embers onto the roofs of nearby homes.

“Thanks to swift response and our resource sharing agreement between Ceres, Modesto, Stanislaus Consolidated, and Turlock City Fire Departments, incidents were quickly handled and resources were ready to respond to the next emergency incident,” the Ceres Fire Department Facebook page stated.

Ceres firefighters also assisted Modesto in battling a small grass fire along Seventh Street just north of Ceres.

A trash enclosure on Parklane caught fire because of hot discarded fireworks.

While call volume was down compared to 2020, the amount of fires tended to was up.

“It was definitely a busy night,” said Serpa. “Overall I think we had a dozen or so fires that were fireworks related. We didn’t quiet down until about 3 o’clock in the morning.”

The use of illegal fireworks was widespread all over Ceres, Stanislaus County and the state of California.

Chief Collins said his department did not use drones during the fireworks campaign but he said he is considering future use of heat maps as “a good starting point based on the data from this year’s calls for service (illegal fireworks related).”

Serpa commented that enforcement can be a “huge safety issue” for police with large numbers of people who may be emboldened by alcohol use.

“The same thing with us,” Serpa noted. “The Rushing River call we had access issues because of people in the street and fireworks boxes that were burning, all these things that are a huge safety issue. I made issue of this at one of the council meetings; they can throw all the money they want at it but in the end it’s the people on the ground we have to worry about. I don’t know what the answer is.”

During Sunday night Ceres Fire had nine firefighters staffed in addition to battalion chiefs and paid overtime for three more firefighters to staff a brush rig.

Mortars in grass
Spent aerial firework mortars – illegal in California – were found in dry grass on Sixth Street near Park Street on Friday afternoon. It’s unknown if the mortars were set off in the grass or dumped on the vacant site in order to dispose of the evidence. - photo by Jeff Benziger