Fireworks enthusiasts may find their Fourth of July celebrations dampened now that use of recreational pyrotechnics has been banned in a majority of San Gabriel Valley communities.
Half of the area's 28 cities have prohibited all fireworks, including those deemed "safe and sane" by the state fire marshal. In addition, all fireworks are banned in unincorporated areas because of a longstanding county prohibition.
Firecrackers, sky rockets and other more potent pyrotechnics are prohibited statewide. But items such as sparklers and cones, considered safe and sane by the state, are regulated at the local level.
Couple of Converts
Whether to ban state-accepted fireworks is an issue that has alternately sizzled and fizzled in area cities.
"We gained a couple this year," county fire Capt. Garry Oversby said, referring to cities banning all fireworks. "From the standpoint of the Fire Department, from the losses we see, we recommend that cities do not have fireworks. Each year we get a couple more cities that support our recommendation."
Arcadia was one of the cities that took the hint this year.
"Over the last 10 years, we have had quite a few fires caused by fireworks, including safe and sane ones," said Earl Curtis, a fire prevention specialist for the city. "The City Council came around and decided that injuring one person or burning one person's roof off is not worth that risk."
The number of cities allowing some fireworks may decrease after the holiday because bans are under consideration in Azusa and West Covina.
Azusa has placed an advisory vote on the November ballot, the results of which could lead to a ban. The West Covina City Council will hold a study session Tuesday, and two of the five council members have already voiced opposition to further firework sales.
Firefighters argue that sparklers and cones create almost as many problems as firecrackers, cherry bombs and bottle rockets.
"We're finding that those cities which do not permit fireworks have a surprisingly lower incidence of fire injuries and firework-related incidents," Oversby said. "Almost half of injuries resulting from fireworks are from the safe and sane ones."
6 Injured Last Year
Fireworks were blamed last year for six injuries in the county during the Fourth of July holiday period, but the total was probably higher, Oversby said.
Statewide, fireworks caused at least 324 injuries during last year's holiday. Of these, 120 were caused by legal fireworks, 127 by illegal pyrotechnics and 77 by unclassified fireworks, according to the state fire marshal.
"The innocent little sparkler has caused a lot of injuries," Oversby said. "Parents will light them and give them to a little kid, and they'll twirl them in the air. Nobody realizes that the tips of these are burning at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit."
During the holiday last year, fireworks caused $184,600 in damage in Los Angeles County, according to county statistics. Of that, $173,000 occurred in the 41 cities allowing some fireworks, whereas there were damages of only $11,000 in the 44 cities and unincorporated areas where all fireworks are prohibited, Oversby said.
Statewide, fireworks were blamed for 765 fires that caused $1.1 million in damage last July 4. But Alta Widerner, an analyst for the state fire marshal, said those figures are low, because only 129 of the state's 900 firefighting jurisdictions filed reports.
As their frequent staccato suggests, illegal fireworks, which are manufactured overseas, are readily available despite enforcement measures. County officials expect to confiscate hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal fireworks, but say that is only a fraction of what will be sold and exploded during the holiday weekend.
"If people want them, they can easily find them," said Pasadena Deputy Fire Chief Don Hughes. "There's always some problem with illegal fireworks. I'd say more fires are probably started with regular fireworks.
"If it was banned everywhere, then the casual person wouldn't be able to get them.
Imports a Problem
Pomona, where all fireworks are banned, has faced the problem of its residents importing fireworks from neighboring La Verne, where there is no prohibition.
"Sometimes, people don't recognize when they enter the city that fireworks are no longer legal," said Ron Gomez, an inspector with the Pomona Fire Department.
Either using fireworks in a city where they are prohibited or using fireworks prohibited by state law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail.
Officials sometimes have trouble distinguishing legal fireworks from those that are not allowed.
"You have to watch very carefully to see the illegal ones because so many are going off," said Alhambra Fire Marshal Dave Carlson. "The thing we look for is anything that leaves the ground or explodes."
West Covina Councilman Robert Bacon wants to clear up the ambiguity in his city, saying the time is right for a blanket ban.