Warnings of $1,000 fines have been issued but the explosions of illegal fireworks heralding the approach of the Fourth of July have been heard all over Ceres and city officials are frustrated.
The city of Ceres has announced it is stepping up the enforcement of illegal fireworks from last year’s inaugural effort but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference.
On Monday the widespread ignoring of the prohibition against loud explosives or aerial fireworks caused Ceres resident Lee Brandt to complain to the City Council on Monday.
“It’s really getting out of hand,” Brandt told the council. “I have no idea how police are going to deal with it.”
Brandt said he suspects that people are making “bombs” by placing legal fireworks inside of empty plastic two-liter bottles, lighting them and capping them. Brandt said somebody recently tossed one of those devices into Berry Grove Park and drove off.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno commented that the problem of explosives seems to be worse this year than previously.
“It’s every single night,” said Ryno. “It isn’t like Friday night, Saturday night. It’s every single night and there’s no possible way, I don’t think, that the fire or the police can catch these people.”
She suggested asking Sheriff Jeff Dirkse what it would charge the city to do aerial surveillance by helicopter for flashes of explosions and tracking perpetrators.
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 signs, 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 the May 25 Ceres City Council meeting, 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.
Over the weekend the city rolled out last year’s Public Service Announcement on social media asking for Ceres residents to be courteous to others and pets or face financial or criminal consequences as a result.
“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.”
He appealed to get people to respect their neighbors, veterans and pets, saying “unexpected explosions from illegal fireworks can startle and cause stress for veterans and pets. 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.
Enforcement will be concentrated on the evening of the Fourth when firefighters and police will form a task force.
Chief Wise also urged families to clean up the street after they use safe and sane fireworks, which can be purchased from non-profit organizations’ booths in Ceres between Sunday and July 4. 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 sending people to collection agencies or applying a tax lien to the property.