Some are smuggled into the United States from factories in Asia and Mexico, or manufactured domestically in clandestine labs and distributed through underground networks. Others are sold openly on street corners, with proceeds going to benefit churches and civic groups.
Fireworks, legal and illegal, are a burning issue with firefighters in the San Gabriel Valley.
The sparklers, cones and firecrackers that will be ignited this week in Los Angeles County to commemorate the 210th anniversary of America's independence are expected to cause scores of injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage.
Public Shows Endorsed
"Our official position is to discourage the use of all fireworks and encourage participation in any of the good public fireworks shows," said Battalion Chief Jim Daleo of the county Fire Department.
In hopes of minimizing home use of fireworks, the Monterey Park Firefighters Assn. is presenting an aerial fireworks display at East Los Angeles College Stadium on July 4.
Other large displays will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Mt. San Antonio College Stadium in Walnut and Citrus College Stadium in Glendora.
Smaller fireworks shows will be held at community parks and high schools in Claremont, La Verne, Rosemead, San Marino, South El Monte and South Pasadena.
Fireworks are banned in the city of Los Angeles, in 13 San Gabriel Valley cities and in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. In addition, firecrackers, cherry bombs, bottle rockets and all other fireworks that explode or shoot into the air are illegal everywhere in California.
Some Fireworks Permissible
However, 15 San Gabriel Valley communities allow the sale of fireworks deemed "safe and sane" by the state fire marshal. Sparklers, spark fountains and other stationary, nonexplosive fireworks may be sold at licensed stands to anyone over the age of 15.
Yet many firefighters say "safe and sane" is a misnomer and that the dual standard used in regulating fireworks increases the incidence of fires and injuries.
"The only way to really handle the situation is to outlaw everything," said Capt. Irv Banbury of the Monterey Park Fire Department, which patrols an area where "safe and sane" fireworks are permitted.
"Sparklers are 'safe and sane,' and what are they? They're pieces of steel that are 2,000 degrees (Fahrenheit) on one end, and we let 3-year-olds wave them around in front of our houses," Banbury said.
Of 109 fireworks-related injuries reported in Los Angeles County last year, 45 were caused by illegal fireworks and 41 by the "safe and sane" kind. In the remaining cases, the type of fireworks could not be determined.
Last year, fireworks were cited in 258 fires countywide, causing more than $416,000 in damage. Legal fireworks were responsible for 58 of those blazes.
"The 'safe and sane' fireworks that cause the majority of fires and injuries are sparklers, probably because people don't treat them as a hazardous item," said the county Fire Department's Daleo.
"Sparklers are considered by many to be the ideal fireworks toy for the young," he said. "But they are very hot and can easily ignite things such as clothing. Children cannot appreciate the dangers of the fireworks and cannot react appropriately to an emergency situation."
Threat of Citations
Daleo warned that even in areas where "safe and sane" fireworks are permitted, parents can be cited for allowing children under 16 to play with them.
Of course, citations may also be issued to people using illegal fireworks anywhere, or to those using any type of fireworks in areas where they are banned. In all cases, the fireworks will be confiscated, he said.
Enforcement of fireworks regulations is most difficult in cities such as Pasadena, where fireworks are prohibited within the city limits but are readily available in neighboring communities.
"People can drive a block out of the city limits and pick up 'safe and sane' fireworks, so we do have a problem," said Capt. Chris Gray of the Pasadena Fire Department.
He added that the city combats the problem with aggressive patrols.
"On the nights surrounding the Fourth, we'll have engine companies out in the area, and we have the police, who have been notified and are familiar with our citation and confiscation procedures," Gray said.
"We're basically on the lookout during those times. Fortunately, (fireworks) are fairly easy to see."
Although fireworks aficionados may complain that such rigid enforcement has taken a lot of the fun out of Independence Day, firefighters counter that it has removed some of the danger as well.
Steady Flow of Fireworks
The number of fireworks-related injuries in California has been dropping steadily for the past three years, from 613 in 1982 to 374 last year, according to state fire marshal statistics.