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Make the Fireworks Fizzle

March 01, 2004

There's a good reason for Buena Park's residents to support Measure D on Tuesday. Each Fourth of July, the city's population soars as thousands of revelers from neighboring communities pour into one of the few Orange County cities that still allows the sale and use of sparklers and other so-called safe and sane fireworks. City police and fire chiefs call the result "a war zone."

Police blamed the wild atmosphere -- sparked in part by a troubling blend of legal and illegal fireworks -- for the accidental shooting death of a 9-year-old boy at a city park on July 4, 2002. Buena Park since has taken to closing city parks at 6 p.m. on Independence Day to discourage amateur fireworks displays, and it hires off-duty county sheriff's deputies to help maintain order. Still, complaints to the police and fire departments about fireworks, as well as noise, public intoxication and unruly behavior, skyrocket as the Fourth of July nears, and city crews spend several days carting away burned-out sparkling cones and other trash.

Time and geography are working against fireworks fans. Years ago, safe and sane fireworks were widely accepted. Buena Park, though, is now a small island surrounded by a sea of cities where fireworks are illegal. Every year the city is swamped by a tsunami of boisterousness. That's reason enough for the residents to support Measure D on Tuesday and make their hometown the 30th of 34 Orange County cities to ban legal fireworks.

A majority of California cities now prohibit the sale and use of fireworks. But as Buena Park learned, a council vote to ban them probably will be challenged. Fireworks distributors protect their livelihood by funding citizens groups -- usually the handful of volunteer organizations that sell fireworks to raise funds -- to conduct petition drives that put the issue to a vote, as in Buena Park. Fullerton-based TNT Fireworks gave $70,000 to opponents of Measure D. Fireworks companies also are spending $200,000 to oppose a fireworks ban in Santa Rosa.

Sparklers remain the leading cause of injuries to youngsters each Fourth of July, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Fire also is a constant threat in a state that turns into a tinderbox each summer. Last year, two youths playing with legal fireworks sparked a blaze that burned down a Santa Rosa house. Municipalities that continue to allow fireworks now have another solid reason for adopting bans -- avoiding a reputation as the only watering hole within miles for an increasingly rowdy crowd.

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