Even amid the lingering smoke, it is clear that the use of illegal fireworks is out of control in Fresno and surrounding communities.
Despite warnings every year from public safety officials about the lethal dangers posed by M80s, mortars, bottle rockets and the like, many people are setting them off during Fourth of July week.
We are lucky that no one has died in a blaze sparked by fireworks this week. The fire departments from Fresno, Clovis and Fresno County received 325 calls for service –a 65 percent increase over last year – and responded to 98 vegetation fires, two vehicle fires, two apartment fires and three residential fires over the long holiday weekend.
Especially worrisome was that the crush of fireworks related calls Tuesday night forced Fresno Fire Department crews to suspend responses to medical emergencies until just after midnight.
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The question is, what to do about scofflaws who celebrate Independence Day with illegal fireworks and, with cannon-like booms that rattle windows, set off burglar alarms and fray the nerves of humans and animals?
Thus far, no ideas have floated out of Fresno’s City Hall. But city spokesman Mark Standriff told The Bee’s Jim Guy that Mayor Lee Brand is looking to conduct a “post mortem” with Fresno County leaders on illegal fireworks at a future joint meeting.
“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.
We agree on that point. But we also believe that city and county leaders need to seek ideas from the community on how to better enforce the law and how to pay for additional police officers and firefighters during Independence Day week.
A Bee reader submitted a promising idea in a Facebook comment: “We need public websites where citizens can post reports and photos so the police can go after the perps later, when they have more time.”
Creating such a website also might alleviate the crunch of calls to the 911 emergency line and to the police crime line.
Another possibility: Add a special sales tax to legal fireworks purchases. The extra money would pay for additional firefighters and police officers on Fourth of July shifts.
Opponents likely would howl about the unfairness of taxing law-abiding citizens to enforce laws against those who use illegal fireworks. But the fact is, the end of Fresno’s total fireworks ban in 2000 provided more cover for those who indulge in illegal firecrackers, cherry bombs and aerial candles.
With hundreds of thousands of people using legal and illegal fireworks, the police and fire departments can’t zero in on sufficient numbers of law-breakers to create a deterrent.
We long opposed the legalization of so-called “safe-and-sane” fireworks and foresaw the dangerous conditions that Fresno now faces annually. Many city councilmembers and mayors foresaw those problems, too. But the fireworks industry was relentless and finally brought Fresno to its knees by using nonprofit groups as their stalking horse.
With promises that nonprofits would operate many of the stands and earn about $10,000 each, the council majority finally caved – much to the delight of then Mayor Jim Patterson.
Thus we have no hope that Brand and the council will turn back the clock and ban all fireworks. The nonprofits are too addicted to the profits to allow that to happen.
But City Hall can and must do better come Independence Day 2018. If it doesn’t, it runs an increasing risk of loss of life and property damage totaling in the many millions.