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Fireworks Ban Fizzles as Fillmore OKs Sales


Sticking with tradition, the city of Fillmore will celebrate the Fourth of July with the usual snap, crackle and pop.

The City Council on Tuesday night decided to go forward with the sale of so-called safe and sane fireworks, despite pressure from Ventura County officials concerned about the potential for more brush fires.

Mayor Don Gunderson said such sales would discourage the use of the illegal kind, which are much more powerful and can be fired great distances.

"We'll maintain the status quo," he said. "It's better ... than creating a situation where more illegal fireworks might be used."

The council's decision came after county Supervisor John Flynn and county Fire Chief Bob Roper urged the city to suspend fireworks sales in light of the 21,000-acre wildfire burning in nearby Los Padres National Forest. The cost to fight that blaze, which began June 1, has exceeded $13 million. Fillmore is one of 229 cities statewide--but the only one in Ventura County--that allows nonprofit groups to sell fireworks during the week leading up to the Fourth of July. The devices, approved by the state fire marshal, do not explode, dart across the ground or lift into the air.

Even so, safe and sane fireworks can start fires, particularly if they are tossed into the trash while still hot or if set off in the woods.

At least nine fires in Ventura County were started by fireworks in recent years, costing more than $5.6 million to extinguish.

Fillmore Fire Chief Pat Askren assured council members at their Tuesday meeting that the state fire marshal has no plans to curb fireworks sales throughout California. But he recommended the city prepare fliers advising customers that current weather conditions make it particularly important that fireworks be used properly.

"If you set it in the middle of the street, it doesn't set a fire," Askren said. "If you take it out in the brush, you will set a fire."

Groups that sell fireworks in Fillmore also are being asked to remind out-of-town customers that it is probably illegal to set them off where they live. In Ventura County, only Fillmore allows amateur fireworks displays.

As a member of the Sunrisers Rotary Club, Gunderson has worked at the group's fireworks sales booth in the past. "When customers ask, the information we provide is: 'We do not know what the ordinances and regulations are in your area, but you are welcome to set them off in any of our public parks, at school grounds and at the high school stadium before the fireworks show,' " he said.

Fillmore has been a mecca for regional revelers willing to drive up to an hour for fireworks to take home. "I'm not responsible for the people of the city of Thousand Oaks or the San Fernando Valley," Askren said. "When they take them back and set them off across their city lines, they're breaking the law. But I can't enforce it."

Flynn had asked county attorneys to look for ways to stop Fillmore, but lawyers said the law does not give the county power to regulate city fireworks sales.

Colorado's governor this week halted all amateur fireworks sales because of the fires engulfing that state. But in California, Gov. Gray Davis is not considering such a prohibition. No state lawmakers from this area have called for such a ban, and Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said to do so would be un-American.

"Bureaucrats love to treat everyone as if they're irresponsible children," McClintock said. "I do believe people should be responsible for using fireworks safely and be held accountable if they don't. But banning fireworks for every responsible person in the community is unjust."

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