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Officials pledge crackdown of illegal fireworks
Every year it seems neighborhoods are rocked with the boom of powerful M-80 firecrackers. Or the night-time skies are filled with an impressive but illegal display of fireworks. But authorities are hoping to end those illegal practices of celebrating the Fourth of July with threats of tougher sanctions.

Ceres city officials are promising tough fines - between $500 and $1,000 - for using illegal fireworks and possible jail time and and sheriff's deputies will be looking for violators and issuing fines to lawbreakers.

Ceres uses the state ordinance for fines.

"We plan to put people in jail if they're discharging rockets ... and using all the other types of illegal fireworks," said Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk. "We 're just not going to have any toleration for it. It's not very easy to identify the source but when we do identify the source we will be very aggressive about it.

Officials are hard-nosed about it for simple safety reasons. Mortar type fireworks go up, come down and cinders can set fire to roofs and dryg grass. Users have also been burned.

DeWerk said he and his department are usually out in force to keep the peace. DeWerk expects more problems due to the fact that many are taking Friday off for a three-day weekend and more opportunity to use illegal fireworks.

"It seems every year there's always some significant fire."

In California, the Office of the State Fire Marshal engages in an extensive testing and approval process of a limited variety of 1.4G fireworks that are known and labeled as "Safe and Sane" fireworks but are more commonly referred to as "State Fire Marshal-Approved," or "State-Approved Fireworks." These fireworks may be identified by the State Fire Marshal Seal found on the individual firework or the boxes containing them. California law allows each city or county to determine whether they will permit these state-approved fireworks to be sold or used in their jurisdiction. Currently, there are 271 communities in California that permit state-approved fireworks to be sold and used every Fourth of July. While some local ordinances may be more restrictive, California law states that these state-approved fireworks may only be sold between noon on June 28 and noon on July 6 each year.

Generally speaking, in addition to not having been classified as Safe and Sane or state-approved, a firework item is considered dangerous and illegal if it "explodes" or "goes up in the air."

Ilegal fireworks include cherry bombs, M-80s, M-100s, Roman candles, silver salutes, bottle rockets, firecrackers, aerial shells and mortars and helicopters.

DeWerk said many of the illegal fireworks that come into California are purchased in Mexico and states like Wyoming. M-80s, which are designed for agricultural use to scare off birds, may be purchased in California but "not for entertainment purposes," said deWerk.

An updated state law makes it easier for officials to cite illegal users and sellers. Fines now are based on the gross weight of the fireworks, including packaging.

"They're considered explosives," said Fire Marshall Brian Nicholes.

To report people using illegal fireworks in Stanislaus County, call 552-3911.

This year the city has given permits to 21 non-profit organizations.

In the area, Ceres residents have the option of heading to Turlock for the fireworks show at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds.

A Fireworks Spectacular will be held at Don Pedro Reservoir at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 4. he public is invited to come out and view the fireworks over the water. Those who view the show from the Blue Oaks Recreation Area or from parking areas by Don Pedro Dam and Visitor's Center on Bonds Flat Road will pay $7 per carload. The Gold Chain Lions Club will have food and beverages available for purchase.

It's suggested that persons arrived before 8 p.m. in order to be parked and settled in time for the show.