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Non-profits gearing up for fireworks sales
• Battalion chief says his agency cannot enforce illegal fireworks
Fireworks booth Ceres
A fireworks stand is readied for sale in front of the Save Mart Shopping Center. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres police and fire officials are advising the public to refrain from using the illegal variety of fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July and go for the “safe and sane” variety soon to be sold by area non-profit organizations.

By law fireworks sales may only be sold June 28 to July 6.

In California, anything that explodes or leaves the ground is illegal but that hasn’t prevented some from smuggling contraband in from states and other countries where they may be legally purchased. If caught possessing them, violators may be cited with a $1,000 fine or six-month jail sentence. Last year Ceres Police cited 26 individuals for violating the fireworks law.

It is a long-standing tradition in Ceres of allowing only non-profit organizations to see safe and sane fireworks for Fourth of July celebrations. This year is no exception, with the city granting permission to 17 groups, including churches, youth sports groups and service clubs.

The 17 booths operating within the city of Ceres and their locations are as follows:

• Ceres American Legion Post #491, 2531 E. Whitmore Ave.;

• Ceres Bulldogs Youth Football, 2147 Pine Street;

• Ceres Christian Church, 2420 Whitmore Avenue;

• Ceres Cowboys football organization, 1670 Mitchell Road;

• Ceres Football Club, 1515 Mitchell Road;

• Ceres Livestock Boosters, 3900 Morgan Road;

• Ceres Pathfinders, 1578 Whitmore Avenue;

• Ceres Police Department, 2916 Whitmore Avenue;

• Ceres Seahawks, 1354 E. Hatch Road;

• Ceres Youth Baseball- Sizzle, 2362 E. Whitmore Ave.;

• Central Valley High School Band & Guard, 1830 Mitchell Road;

• Church of the Nazarene, 1801 Mitchell Road;

• CVHS Athletic Boosters, 1657 E Hatch Road;

• First Southern Baptist Church, 3240 E. Redwood Road;

• Modesto Mavericks Swim Club, 1650 E. Hatch Road;

• New Visions Christian Church, 1850 E Hatch Road;

• Valley Christian Church, 1801 Mitchell Road.

In 2017 the city of Ceres increased the fee for non-profit organizations to operate an annual fireworks booth from $282 to $399. The fee hike was not related to the City Council’s action that makes possession of illegal fireworks and explosives a violation of the city’s municipal code.

Ceres only allows non-profit organizations like scouts, churches, clubs and sports teams to sell fireworks within the city limits.

The city doesn’t typically have problems with safe and sane variety of fireworks but past Fourth of July holiday seasons have kept Ceres firefighters busy all night.

Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said that before the Ceres Municipal Code had changed in 2017, the city had found it difficult to enforce the ban on illegal fireworks through a state Health and Safety Code that requires an officer to actually see someone light a fume. He said the state code was a “pretty high standard and difficult to enforce.”

Ceres and Modesto moved toward changes in the municipal code last year to make possession of illegal fireworks a violation of local code. The move gives the cities “a lot more latitude and allow the city to set the fine not rather than relying what the state levels are and again the need to prosecute,” said Wells.

Despite the crackdown, the proliferation of illegal Fourth of July aerial displays and the sound of illegal explosive devices reached a pinnacle last summer in Ceres and other Valley towns. In 2014 a mortar was launched in the 2700 block of Tricia Court that ended up flying into a neighboring home and causing damage when it exploded.

Bottle rockets are legal to purchase in Nevada, and sky rockets and firecrackers are legal in New Mexico. Many illegal varieties of fireworks come across the border illegally from Mexico.

Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith said on Monday that the city has taken a “zero tolerance” stance against illegal fireworks.

Mayor Chris Vierra reported at Monday’s council meeting that a neighbor of his was already blowing off aerial fireworks over the past weekend.

“There seems to be no regard for catching people’s houses on fire,” said Mayor Vierra.

Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Rich Scola said his department always has “huge difficulties” enforcing illegal fireworks with not enough staff. He said the fire investigation unit will not have enough staff and his men will be inundated with “the sheer amount of calls.”

“There are going to be a lot of unanswered calls for illegal fireworks,” said Scola. “Because we’re not equipped and trained to handle that person that’s involved in criminal activity, we tend to take a more reserved approach to it and deal with the emergencies afterwards. We don’t have that. We don’t have handcuffs. We don’t have the ability to enter and exit crime scenes very quickly in big fire trucks so fires are going to happen and we’re going to do the best we can to respond with the resources we have available.”