The Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider a proposal to increase penalties that might be imposed on residents who ignite fireworks illegally in unincorporated communities within Riverside County, as well as designate places where legal pyrotechnics can be lit.

“The massive display of illegal fireworks (in July 2020) lasted for days and were responsible for multiple fires, and overwhelmed the county’s 911 system, causing delays in critical responses to calls for help, stretching fire resources beyond their limits,” according to an Executive Office statement posted to the board’s agenda for Tuesday.

The Office of County Counsel, in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire, drafted amendments to the county’s long-standing regulations prohibiting illegal pyrotechnics, codified under Ordinance No. 858.

The revisions were requested last summer by Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Karen Spiegel, following the series of illicit fireworks-related incidents that some officials attributed to lockdown fever, with people seeking outlets amid coronavirus-related restrictions, which resulted in most public fireworks shows being canceled countywide.

According to Sheriff Chad Bianco, the county’s 911 service received 8,668 emergency and non-emergency calls connected to fireworks activity, leading to 80 arrests, on July 4.

Spiegel said that in the Corona area alone, “it was the most number of illegal fireworks going off I’ve ever seen.”

Ordinance No. 858 currently sets fines for illegal possession and use of pyrotechnics between $500 and $1,000. It additionally establishes the possibility of misdemeanor charges, when cases rise to a certain level.

Under the proposed amendments, there would be new civil administrative penalties, between $1,000 and $5,000, tacked onto each ticket. The amount would depend on the number of violations within a 36-month period.

The revisions would also create liabilities for property owners who knowingly permit someone to light illegal fireworks, increasing penalties further.

The final provision of the revised ordinance would give the county fire marshal authority to designate specific locations where so-called “safe and sane” fireworks can be sold and ignited. In Blythe, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Indio, the safe and sane devices — like sparklers, fountains and snappers that don’t shoot into the air — are permitted.

The cost of modifying the ordinance would run up to $100,000, which would have to be drawn from contingency accounts, according to the Executive Office. Officials said $30,000 would be needed for augmented enforcement during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, and another $70,000 would be required for billboard advertising and public service announcements in advance advising the public of changes to local law.

Cities have their own regulations and would not be compelled to follow the county’s requirements, unless they choose to align with them.

If the amendments receive majority approval Tuesday, another hearing would be held on May 11 to formally adopt them.

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