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City unveils plan to curb use of illegal fireworks
• Multi-faceted plan includes public education, zero tolerance enforcement
Kevin Wise
Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise last week introduced the Ceres CIty Council to a new program designed to reduce illegal fireworks for the Fourth of July period. Yard signs like these are part of it. - photo by Jeff Benziger

For years city leaders have expressed outrage and frustration at the amount of illegal fireworks blown off on and around the Fourth of Day. Now the city is poised to do something about it.

At last week’s Ceres City Council meeting, Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins and Fire Chief Kevin Wise jointly presented details on a task force to combat illegal fireworks this year. The mission is to educate the public on the dangers of illegal fireworks as well as enforce a zero tolerance policy for the use, possession, or sale of dangerous or illegal fireworks.

Included in part of the effort is a Fireworks Surrender Event where those with illegal fireworks can turn in their contraband without questions or prosecution. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, July 1, Tuesday, July 2 and Wednesday, July 3 at the downtown Ceres Fire Station, 2755 Third Street.

Wise said the amnesty program will provide residents a safe and convenient way to dispose of illegal fireworks while also avoiding the risk of facing thousands of dollars in fines and criminal charges.

All fireworks will be accepted with no questions asked. Only fireworks will be accepted at this event.

In California, anything that explodes – like firecrackers or M-80s – or leaves the ground – such as bottle rockets and aerial fireworks – are illegal to possess and ignite.

“Our message is zero tolerance and be a good neighbor,” said Fire Chief Wise.

Over the years the use of illegal fireworks has grown, causing problems for police and fire. Between June 29 and July 7, 2018, Ceres Police Department responded to 59 firework related calls for service with the majority being illegal aerial fireworks.

An educational video featuring Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise and Ceres Police Chief Richard Collins will be published on social media. The city also printed up posters, flyers, yard signs and banners to get out the message. Yard signs will be available for residents to place in their yards starting June 10. Posters will be placed in businesses this month.

Involved in the program is police, fire, IT and the city attorney’s office.

In an effort to reduce calls to 911, a special illegal fireworks hotline has been set up at (209) 538-5683, or 538-LOUD, and an email address to report illegal fireworks use at Residents are encouraged to use the hotline or email address to report illegal fireworks – and not call 911 – on July 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and on July 4, 5 and 6 from 9 a.m. to midnight. In the event a call is not answered, a message may be left. Messages left on the phone and email hotlines will be checked periodically throughout the day and night.

Extra patrols of police officers and firefighters will team together with the specific task of responding to illegal fireworks calls on July 4. When not responding to calls, police and fire will be out looking for those using illegal fireworks. Those caught using illegal fireworks will be issued citations with fines starting at $1,000. Use of fireworks that is deemed egregious could be faced with criminal charges.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he thinks the inaugural program is “great.” He also asked the fire department to add to its message about safe and sane fireworks by encouraging residents to pick up their fireworks debris that evening.

“Absolutely amazing,” said Vice Mayor Linda Ryno. “I’m excited about it. I think for the five years that I’ve been on the council that every year I brought up firework safety and this is beyond what I would have expected.”