With the Fourth of July about a month away, the city of Ceres is planning to step up its aggressive fight against the use of illegal fireworks.
Last year the city launched its most stringent effort in history to get residents to stop using fireworks that explode or leave the ground because of their potential to injure people and cause fires. The inaugural zero tolerance effort included campaign-style yard sale, a reporting hotline and issuances of $1,000 fines. In 2019, Ceres Police cited 43 individuals for illegal fireworks between 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 4 and 1:30 a.m. the next morning. Ceres Fire Department personnel issued seven citations of their own. The city’s special hotline for reporting the use of illegal firework was very busy with 311 calls during the same time period last year. Some residents said the crackdown had a negligible effect on illegal aerial displays.
At last week’s Ceres City Council meeting on Zoom, Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise and Ceres Police Captain Pat Crane tag teamed to give an update on how the new campaign will be conducted.
“Our message to our citizens is that the city has a zero tolerance for the use, possession or sale of dangerous illegal fireworks,” said Chief Wise. “Again, if you light them you will be cited or we can arrest you. The fines and penalties are steep. Fines are $1,000 for each occurrence. Misdemeanor or felony charges could equal jail time.”
Wise said last year’s effort was designed to get people to respect their neighbors, veterans and pets.
“Unexpected explosions from illegal fireworks can startle and cause stress for veterans and pets,” said Wise. “We have veterans residing within our city with PTSD. The sound of fireworks can trigger anxiety.”
He said each Fourth of July the city experiences a swell in the numbers of runaway or injured pets which panic at the sound of exploding fireworks. Wise encouraged people to be courteous and celebrate safely.
Enforcement will be concentrated on the evening of the Fourth when firefighters and police will form a task force.
Chief Wise also asked that families clean up the street after they use safe and sane fireworks. Safe and sane fireworks can be purchased from non-profit organizations’ booths in Ceres between June 28 and July 6. Wise said he doesn’t expect to see as many groups selling this year in the wake of life changing since the COVID-19 scare.
Those given an administrative citation will have to pay their $1,000 fine without going before a judge. If it’s not paid, the city has the option of shutting off utilities to the violator’s residence.
Ten of the 43 cited last year have paid their $1,000 fines while 12 have made payment arrangements. The remaining 19 violators have been sent to collections. A total of $15,700 has been paid in fines.
Two years ago under state law, local authorities had to see a person lighting an illegal firework to issue them a citation. In May 2017 the city decided to go the administrative citation route by changing the municipal code. Now, Serpa said, a citation can be issued to the property owner or tenant if it’s observed that a bottle rocket or other flying object leaves the property.
Like last year, the Ceres Fire Department is hosting a Fireworks Safe Surrender event 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 29-July 3 at the downtown station, 2755 Third Street. Illegal fireworks may be surrendered without fear of fines.
“All fireworks will be accepted, no questions asked,” said Wise. He said anyone can surrender illegal fireworks to any police officer or firefighter.
Those who want yard signs to help promote the crackdown may pick them up at the Third Street fire station. Businesses may also pick up posters that carry the same message.
The public outreach also included a public service video that will appear on social media sites.
Captain Crane said the special hotline (209 538-LOUD or 538-5683) is designed to redirect calls reporting illegal fireworks away from the main 911 emergency line. The special line will be staffed by police Records Division personnel beginning July 1. Reports of illegal fireworks may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org as of July 1.
“When reporting fireworks to the police department please be patient. We do get a lot of calls that come in so we will have to prioritize and move forward with those. Recognize that there is a big problem within the city and we’re going to take this enforcement to see if we can’t curb some of that.”
Fourth of July lands on a Saturday this year.
“We do expect high volume calls for the weekend. If things are opened up by July 4th, we’re going to be really busy with people coming out and antsy to come out.”
Last year only one Records personnel manned the hotline but this year it will be two, said Captain Crane.
Mayor Chris Vierra asked if police cite people who fail to clean up fireworks debris in the street or sidewalks in front of their homes. He said many neighborhoods are allowed to look trashy for days. Captain Crane said social media posts will aim to tell residents they need to clean up fireworks messes.