Fires sparked by illegal fireworks Tuesday night forced Fresno Fire Department crews to suspend responses to medical emergencies, as Fresno, Clovis and Fresno County reported a 65 percent increase in fire responses this year compared to 2016.
In assessing a Fourth of July weekend that strained fire departments, officials said firefighters from the three agencies received 325 calls for service and responded to 98 vegetation fires, two vehicle fires, two apartment fires and three residential fires.
By late Tuesday, Fresno firefighters had battled at least 11 grass fires and called for assistance from both Clovis and Fresno County fire departments.
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Just after midnight, the Fresno department tweeted that the grass fires were under control and medical service would resume.
Wednesday, Fresno fire investigator Don MacAlpine said his unit, along with investigators from the other two agencies, are going after sellers who advertise illegal fireworks on social media sites and also advertise the contraband items on posters around the region. Felony charges are a possibility for those who are caught.
“Many of these folks are otherwise law-abiding citizens,” he said. He cited one seller who took a leave of absence from his job to go to Nevada, presumably to purchase explosive and aerial fireworks that are legal in that state but against the law in California.
MacAlpine did not yet know the number of citations that were issued for illegal fireworks use.
The apparent increase in reports of illegal fireworks Tuesday raised questions as to whether Fresno’s police and fire departments have enough manpower to find violators and issue citations. That prompted a question to city officials: Could code enforcement workers or Neighborhood Watch leaders be deputized to issue citations? Citizens? No, said Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the city. But possibly code enforcement personnel.
“There isn’t a jurisdiction out there with enough manpower” to do away with shooting illegal fireworks, he said.
Additionally, he added, “there’s a concern when you give law enforcement power to civilians without the training or understanding of the specifics of our codes.”
Instead, Standriff said, Mayor Lee Brand expects that city and Fresno County leaders would undertake a “post mortem” on the use of illegal fireworks at one of their upcoming joint meetings. “If we’re going to address this, we need to bring in the county and the surrounding cities and get everyone on the same page,” Standriff said.
Other cities faced challenges from people setting off illegal fireworks.
In Visalia, the fire department issued 48 citations, including 32 on Tuesday. The fine is $1,000.
Madera police were forced to shut down traffic at Stadium Road and Gamay Street, near Town and Country Park, so firefighters could battle a large grass fire.
In northwest Fresno, Dawn Golik, 48, said that in her neighborhood near the San Joaquin River bluffs illegal fireworks were so prevalent she took a video of the activity and posted it on Twitter.
The illegal use of fireworks has been going on every Fourth of July for about 10 years, she said.
But she did not call the police department because “we’ve given up calling law enforcement because it doesn’t do anything,” Golik said.
She said she worries that an errant ember or rocket will ignite dry grass at the bluffs and cause a fire that gets out of control.
The illegal fireworks problem is not easy to solve, but “I think it’s a matter of personal responsibility, to be a good neighbor,” she said. “There’s no need to go on until 1:30 in the morning.”