Filled with boyish enthusiasm, Bob Urcan hopped out of his brand-new Mercedes Benz at a roadside stand along California 126 in Fillmore and meticulously picked out fireworks for his family's annual Fourth of July bash.
The well-dressed Urcan, 39, and his wife Marion, 41, of Agoura took a few hours off from running their insurance agency for a trek to Ventura County to buy $180 worth of fireworks, something they have done every year for the past 10 years.
"I love it," Urcan said beaming, holding his car phone in one hand and a bunch of fireworks in the other. "It's a time to celebrate with the family. It reminds me of when I was a kid."
The Urcans were among the hundreds who converged on Fillmore Monday, the first day to buy Fourth of July fireworks from the only legal stands in Ventura County.
Although fireworks are illegal in most of Ventura County--and Agoura too--the law did not douse the pyrotechnic plans of many Fourth of July revelers.
The buyers, some of them with children in tow, came from cities across the county and beyond, buying as much as $500 worth of fireworks.
At least 20 nonprofit organizations ranging from church and civic groups have obtained permits to operate fireworks booths until July 4. The various booths stretch for nearly two miles along California 126 in Fillmore.
Fillmore is the only city in the county that allows the sale and shooting off of fireworks.
Vendors sell the so-called "safe and sane" fireworks, which make a distinctive whistling sound and send off colorful sparks. Firecrackers, skyrockets and other pyrotechnics that shoot into the sky are illegal, even in Fillmore.
Despite repeated warnings from Ventura County fire officials that use of fireworks is illegal, many of the residents who purchased fireworks said they plan to use them illegally outside of Fillmore. Illegal use of fireworks can result in a fine of $500 to $1000 and a jail term of six months, fire officials said.
Most cities have banned fireworks because of the threat of fires and personal injury. Last year, for instance, Ventura County had 17 fireworks-related fires and en estimated property loss of $353,010. Fire officials said injuries caused by sparklers were higher statewide than any other type of fireworks.
But that did not stop Alex Graybill, 33, who came from Santa Barbara to purchase $100 worth of fireworks while on break from installing cable lines in Ventura County. He has traveled as far as Mexico to buy fireworks.
"I like to see the sparkle in my kid's eyes when the fireworks go off," said Graybill, who has two young children. "These fireworks are much safer and that's the key."
Eddie and Rosie Herrera, who manage a fireworks booth representing the Fillmore Bobby Sox girls softball team, said sales were well on their way to topping the $31,000 made last year.
"We had to double the number of fireworks this year because we sold out the year before," Rosie Herrera said. "We hope to make $51,000 this year."
Fireworks stands were selling a variety of fireworks, such as Black Snakes, Smoke Balls and Flashing Wheels. Fireworks range in price from 79 cents a piece to $199 for a variety package.
Nonprofit groups are required to pay a Fillmore city fee of $335 to operate for one week. It includes cleanup, permit and fireworks show fees. Some stand operators also rent the property they occupy for selling fireworks.
The ordinance does not limit the number of fireworks stands. But it requires operators to be a nonprofit group, set up stands at least 100 hundred feet apart and have been operating in the city for three years.
City Clerk Noreen Withers said the Fillmore fire chief will check and make sure all city rules are followed and work in conjunction with the state fire marshal's office to maintain safety.
Mario Flores of Santa Paula spent at least $500 on fireworks because he are expecting at least 100 family and friends at their house for the weekend.
"We just wanted to make sure we had enough for everyone," he said.
Fireworks are not legal in any city in Ventura County except Fillmore, according to Ventura County fire officials. Officials also discourage the use of fireworks by anyone other than a licensed pyrotechnic professional. The illegal use or possession of fireworks is punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and six months in jail. Fourth of July fireworks shows are planned for Camarillo, Ojai, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Check with individual cities for the time, location and cost of admission.