Local News

Monday, Jul 08 2013 05:37 PM

Illegal fireworks citations soar over July 4 holiday

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    This is one of many boxes of illegal fireworks confiscated by the Kern County Fire Department and other law enforcement agencies at a house in Bakersfield Thursday afternoon.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

The number of citations for illegal fireworks exploded this Fourth of July as city firefighters raced from one call to the next, ultimately handing out 61 citations.

Last year, city firefighters only handed out 36 citations for the same July 3-4 period. Staffing of fireworks patrols has been about the same over the past few years, so the increase means more people are breaking the law, said Bakersfield Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza.

"It just seems that every year the use of illegal fireworks seems to creep up in the city of Bakersfield," Galagaza said.

City firefighters partnered with Bakersfield police in responding to 671 reports of illegal fireworks. By comparison, there were 523 reports in 2012 and 368 in 2011 over the holiday enforcement period.

The number of citations in 2012 was actually one less than the 37 handed out in 2011. Then came this year's soaring numbers.

"It's obviously overwhelming because it's so much activity the 3rd and the 4th," Galagaza said.

City firefighters also had their hands full hauling away the more than 600 pounds of illegal fireworks they confiscated. That number's up from 350 pounds in 2012 and 250 pounds in 2011.

Of the illegal fireworks, Galagaza said bottle rockets remain popular, as do "Safe and Sane" fireworks that have been modified for a bigger bang. It's against the law to modify legal fireworks in any manner.

A Kern County Fire Department news release Monday evening said county firefighters paired with sheriff's deputies issued 63 citations for illegal fireworks and made three felony arrests July 3-4. They responded to 502 calls of illegal fireworks during the same period.

Those numbers appear to be up, as county firefighters cited at least 54 people in 2012.

Galagaza said the citation is a flat $1,500 unless there's "derogatory behavior." In the past there have been instances of fireworks thrown at firefighters by people angry with the citation.

Galagaza said he was unaware of any similar incidents this year. Officers did arrest one person during the patrols. He didn't know what led to the arrest or what the alleged offense was.

To issue a citation, crews have to catch people in the act or with the fireworks in their hands.

Now that the holiday is over, the numbers will be analyzed and specifics regarding the fireworks patrols evaluated. Galagaza said they'll be preparing months in advance for what's become a booming time not just for celebration but for lawbreakers receiving a hefty fine.

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