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Cut the Fuse on Fireworks

ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

September 01, 2002

As the summer fun season ends, it's important for Buena Park not to forget the death in Boisseranc Park that occurred early on, and to heed the call of its police chief for a fireworks ban in the city.

Fourth of July celebrants whose holidays aren't complete without making their own sparks are crowding into five Orange County cities that still allow so-called "safe and sane" fireworks.

The proliferation of street fireworks makes those towns much noisier during the holiday, so scofflaws with bottle rockets and other dangerous fireworks that no cities allow also head for Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Stanton.That's what thousands of people were doing at Boisseranc Park on July 4 when 9-year-old Xavier Morales of Anaheim was killed by a gunshot.

The Buena Park spot is popular for family picnics and those who want to set off their own fireworks, legal or otherwise. The result is a law-enforcement headache that grows worse every year. The police department fielded 130 fireworks complaints this year.

Police Chief Gary Hicken blames the pandemonium caused by amateur fireworks for creating the environment that left Xavier dead, possibly the victim of someone who randomly shot off a gun as part of the celebration. The gunshot went unnoticed in all the noise, and the killer got away.

The amateur displays might have had nothing to do with the fatal shooting, but police have enough to do on Independence Day without responding to scores of calls on fireworks.

At least 45 people in the county were injured by fireworks in 2000 during the monthlong period including Independence Day. The injury toll was second only to Los Angeles County and more than twice the number in any other county. Sadly, more than a dozen injuries were from legal fireworks sold at stands that nonprofit groups use to raise money.

The number of fires sparked by fireworks has fallen dramatically since the mid-1980s, when cities began enforcing bans, but legal fireworks have caused seven fires this year.

Cities that consider safe and sane fireworks bans are barraged with complaints from the fireworks industry and nonprofit groups that raise funds by selling fireworks at licensed booths. So Buena Park will feel that heat if it acts on Hicken's recommendation.

The city is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Xavier's killer. If fireworks were left to the professionals, Buena Park might be using that money to fund nonprofit groups instead of searching for a killer.

The danger of death, injury and fire damage provides more than enough reasons for Buena Park and the other holdouts to make this a county free of amateur fireworks.

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