RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors has directed Riverside County public safety officials and Executive Office staff to work on strengthening fireworks regulations to prevent a repeat of the enormous number of violations that occurred on the Fourth of July.
“It was the most number of illegal fireworks going off I’ve ever seen,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said Tuesday in making the proposal for increased penalties. “It was chaos.”
Jeffries was joined by Supervisor Karen Spiegel in calling on Sheriff Chad Bianco, Fire Chief Casey Hartman and Executive Office attorneys to possibly revise county Ordinance No. 858, which sets fines for fireworks violations between $500 and $1,000, as well as establishes the grounds for misdemeanor charges.
Jeffries, a former firefighter, said he was both incensed and astonished by the number of fireworks being lit in so many places during the Independence Day holiday weekend. He said blazes resulted from pyrotechnics near Lake Elsinore, in Mead Valley and around Lake Mathews.
“I’d like it if we don’t repeat this on New Year’s or next (Independence Day) as best we can,” the supervisor said.
Bianco said the cancellation of public fireworks shows due to coronavirus concerns influenced many residents in their decisions to ignite their own supplies.
“I think companies got rid of their stockpiles by selling to the public,” the sheriff said. “We were overwhelmed with illegal fireworks calls.”
Bianco said that on July 4, the Sheriff’s 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.
Moreno Valley had the highest number of calls countywide at 1,328.
Another problem was reckless gunfire ostensibly tied to Fourth of July celebrations, according to Bianco.
“There were plenty of irresponsible people out shooting guns because they had no access to fireworks,” he said. “That’s a much greater danger because the rounds go up and they must come down. There was some damage with vehicles hit, but there were no injuries.”
The sheriff said about 80 people were arrested for fireworks violations.
“The availability of illegal fireworks is becoming more prevalent,” he said. “We need some kind of planning event to convince people they need to do something else.”
The sheriff also advocated for “major civil fines” that can be imposed on violators.
“It’s one thing to leave someone with a citation, but it’s another if they receive a $3,000 fine,” Bianco said.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt expressed hope that next year, Independence Day celebrations would be back on track, lessening the likelihood of illegal fireworks activity.
“It’s been such a bad year,” Hewitt said. “So many people felt like, ‘Hey, we’re going to do (a fireworks celebration) anyway.'”
There was no word on when the proposed revisions to 858 might be submitted.
The measure expressly prohibits the sale, storage and transportation of fireworks without a permit. County residents are allowed to use pyrotechnic devices in Blythe, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Indio, where so-called “safe and sane” fireworks can be sold to the public.
The devices, which must meet state fire marshal certification, generally do not explode or fly and include ground spinners, fountains, snappers and caps.