Orange County first responders mindful of bone-dry conditions warned residents Wednesday to be wary of the dangers of fireworks as the Fourth of July approaches.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he understands there is “pent-up energy” for the holiday this year as the state has recently lifted coronavirus-related restrictions that put a damper on 2020 celebrations.
“We all want you to enjoy the Fourth and the freedoms the Constitution gives all of us, but we must insist you do it safely, and if you do not do it safely there are serious consequences,” Spitzer said.
Possession of illegal fireworks can lead to a $1,000 fine, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes noted. Spitzer added that a year in jail is also in the mix, but the punishment could be up to nine years in prison if a first responder is injured by fireworks.
Spitzer said several northern Orange County cities allow “safe and sane” fireworks, but the boxes are clearly marked with the state fire marshal’s approval.
“It’s like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” Spitzer said at a news conference at the Orange County Fire Authority Regional Fire Operations and Training Center in Irvine, where first responders detonated some of the illegal fireworks seized recently to demonstrate the dangers.
If residents are planning a Fourth of July party, “make sure your city allows them,” Barnes said. “Not every city allows them.”
Orange County locales that allow state-approved fireworks are Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Stanton, Villa Park and Westminster, Spitzer said.
“You can possess safe and sane fireworks no matter where you are,” he said. “But you can only utilize them in (the cities that allow them). Unincorporated Orange County is not included in that list.”
Personnel at any fire station can help confirm where it is safe to use the state-approved fireworks, Spitzer said.
Spitzer noted that skyrockets, bottle rockets, roman candles and sparklers longer than 10 inches are not allowed under any circumstances, and neither are fire crackers or M80s.
“Any firework that explodes in the air or moves in an uncontrollable manner — those are illegal,” Spitzer said.
Barnes said “skyrockets and other mortars can cause significant damage to you and your loved ones.”
The sheriff said so far this year, his deputies have seized more than 11,000 pounds of illegal fireworks, which is “more than 2020 combined.”
The sheriff held up one device with an instant fuse that has caused some handlers to lose fingers and sustain facial injuries.
Spitzer said one person was arrested recently with more than 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks. He said the defendant is looking at three years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.
Spitzer also noted that parents must also be mindful of what their children are up to.
“You as a parent in California can be held liable, as well,” the county’s top prosecutor said. “Don’t think if you send your children off to engage in this activity that it could be without consequences. You have to be as alert as if your child is when swimming in a pool.”
Barnes asked residents to call non-emergency phone lines for local law enforcement agencies when reporting illegal fireworks because the holiday is expected to be busy and officers and deputies want 911 lines open to emergencies.
“We will respond (to calls of illegal fireworks) when resources are available,” Barnes said. “Like every Fourth of July, we’ll be stretched… We will respond, but we don’t want to tie up the 911 system with those calls.”
The sheriff also warned partygoers about drinking and driving.
“People are going to be out this year unlike last year and celebrating and if you’re going to a party to drink, then do not drive,” Barnes said. “Have a designated sober driver or use a rideshare service. If you are going to be the designated driver, the designed driver is not the one who drinks the least. It is the one who does not drink at all.”
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said extra firefighters will be on alert for wildfires sparked by fireworks.
“You could expect on a report of fire we’ll be responding with everything we have,” Fennessy said.
“It does not take much for a vegetation fire to take off,” Fennessy said of the low humidity during the drought.
“We’re hoping we don’t have any issues on the holiday weekend, but hope isn’t a great plan so we’ll be ready,” Fennessy said.