According to the CalFire Riverside County Fire Department website, “All fireworks, including sparklers, are illegal in Riverside County. … Those caught with illegal fireworks will be subject to fines, citation and/or arrest; including confiscation of all illegal fireworks.”
But on the Fourth of July, according to some local law enforcement agencies, very few people found to be shooting off fireworks to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day were cited or arrested.
Valley News reached out to representatives from Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Murrieta Police Department, Menifee Police Department and Hemet Police Department for data.
Hemet’s department did not respond by press time and Cpl. Lionel Murphy of Riverside County Sheriff’s media information bureau said, “statistical information is generally not available until approximately one month after any given incident date.”
But on Tuesday after press deadline, Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Riverside County Board of Supervisors that the department received 8,668 emergency and non-emergency calls related to pyrotechnics.
Deputies responded to less than half of them because they were so over-extended, according to the sheriff.
The sheriff said about 80 people were arrested for fireworks violations countywide.
“It was the most number of illegal fireworks going off I’ve ever seen,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said in making the proposal for increased penalties. “It was chaos.”
According to Bob Magee, mayor pro tem of Lake Elsinore, there were 20 citations handed out by Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Substation deputies over the Fourth of July weekend.
According to the Murrieta Police Department, more than 100 calls came into the department, July 4, which they handled but reported no citations or arrests.
According to Tony Conrad of the Murrieta Police Department, the department mainly confiscated illegal fireworks and “handed out informational pamphlets.”
There was significant discussion on social media about residents firing off their own fireworks to replace the fireworks shows typically held by area cities and businesses such as Pechanga Resort Casino, which canceled their show just more than a week before July 4.
Only Menifee held a fireworks display for the community, taking place, June 27.
But the newly debuted Menifee Police Department had quite an evening on the Fourth of July, according to Capt. Dave Gutierrez.
Gutierrez said 175 confirmed calls came into the department regarding illegal fireworks, and “There were likely many more, but due to the extremely high volume of calls, some residents were not able to get through.”
The department issued no fireworks-related citations, arrests or confiscated any illegal fireworks on the evening, Gutierrez said.
“July Fourth and July 5 were exceptionally busy for us,” he said. “While we did receive approximately 175 dispatchable calls for service related to fireworks, our troops also responded to a couple of hundred other calls including Priority 1 calls. Some of those calls were a homicide, hit and run collisions with injuries, alarm calls, a prowler call, mental health calls, domestic violence calls, a man shooting a gun call, fire assist calls, assault with a deadly weapon call, DUI call and welfare checks.”
Gutierrez said the department recognized the complaints and calls associated with illegal fireworks, they were unable to prioritize them that night.
“Although call prioritizing is normal in all law enforcement agencies when call volumes are as high as they were over the Fourth of July weekend, it is a reality that some calls pend for longer than we would like,” he said. “Unfortunately, the main calls that had to pend longer than we would have liked were fireworks. We know, and absolutely acknowledge fireworks can be dangerous and were a nuisance and downright disrespectful to the peace and quiet of many people, but we just could not get to the fireworks calls in time to catch anyone in the act of using the fireworks. Even though the fireworks can be easily seen and heard in the air, they are extremely difficult to pinpoint the location of origin.”
Gutierrez said the department is committed to continuing to improve the services they offer, including the issue of illegal fireworks.
“We want Menifee to know we will begin planning for July 4, 2021, at least a month in advance,” he said. “We will keep this year’s data and use it for extra patrols and enforcement next year. By all accounts, this year was the worst anyone has seen in Menifee and all over California in many years. We want to ensure next year is not the same or worse. The Menifee Police Department is committed to maintaining the safety of all our residents. We will always work hard to accomplish this.”
According to Cal Fire’s website, http://readyforwildfire.org, “if convicted, a violator could be fined up to $50,000, as well as be sent to jail for up to one year.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.