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Officials Use Show and Tell to Warn of Dangers From Fireworks

June 24, 2004|Matthew Lopas | Times Staff Writer

Using a watermelon, fireworks and a field of dry grass, Riverside County fire and sheriff's officials Wednesday demonstrated why they want residents to leave Fourth of July fireworks to the professionals.

Although fireworks are illegal in nearly all of Riverside County, every year there are burn victims and wildfires -- something of particular concern to a region scarred by deadly fires in October.

Last year 63 fires in the county were caused directly by fireworks, up nearly 15% from 2002.

"People just don't understand the dangers," said Riverside County Fire Department Chief Tom Tisdale during a morning news conference in Banning.

To demonstrate how devastating the explosives can be to revelers, a Sheriff's Department bomb technician put an illegal firework inside a watermelon and lighted it, and pieces went flying.

Tisdale said he hoped to get the word out about the dangers, especially to parents. U.S. children younger than 15 suffer almost half of the injuries, which include burns, caused by fireworks, he said, citing a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most common injuries are to the hands, face and eyes.

To show how even the smallest Independence Day celebration can cause a fire, a sheriff's deputy lighted sparklers and a spinning "ground bloom," and dry grass was ablaze in seconds.

Because of those dangers, fireworks are banned in all of Riverside County except for Blythe, Indio, Cathedral City and Coachella.

Possession of fireworks can net a fine and, if serious enough, an arrest. Last year there were 63 citations, and this year every Riverside County Fire Department enforcement officer will be on duty both on the holiday and at least four days before and after.

Fireworks are also banned in most of San Bernardino County, with the exception of seven cities: Adelanto, Chino, Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Rialto and parts of San Bernardino. The San Bernardino County Fire Department also plans to strictly enforce the restrictions over the holiday.

With so many free opportunities to watch fireworks in the area, said Cpl. Frank Anderson, a bomb technician with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, there is no reason for people to risk breaking the law, injuring people or damaging property.

"There's no room for error when it comes to explosives," he said.

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