Illegal fireworks in Mid-City spark irritation and fear

In Los Angeles' Mid-City, residents say illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July make it like a war zone. Where are the police?

It's not that he isn't patriotic. But Shai Levy, a Mid-City resident, doesn't look forward to Independence Day.

"On Fourth of July, it's like Beirut here. Or Falloujah," he said of the massive, deafening illegal fireworks displays launched by his neighbors near Fairfax north of the 10 Freeway.

And he's not alone.

"I was driving home on the Fourth, on Pico, and thought I was in a war zone," said another Mid-City resident, L.A. city attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan, who saw people setting off fireworks from the middle of the street. "They were going fast and furious, and they were literally going right above the car. It was a little frightening. I just kept driving."

Home fireworks are illegal in Los Angeles, and there is no shortage of sanctioned, professionally conducted Fourth of July shows. But that doesn't stop the amateurs, who have been lighting up the sky for years across the city, particularly in Echo Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Some residents say the only change has been that the fireworks displays are bigger, louder and longer than ever, frightening pets, waking toddlers and spiking fears about accidental fires.

On the website Eastsider L.A., a lively exchange ensued last week as residents reviewed another long night of chest-pounding explosions, with references to a war zone and fireworks being used to cover the sound of gunshots.

"I have to say — you can tell the economy has picked up," wrote a Silver Lake resident. "A lot more and a lot of very spectacular illegal fireworks this year."

If you're asking yourself why the city doesn't burn to the ground when so many knuckleheads are playing with fire, the answer is that maybe we're just lucky. In Buena Park this year, fire officials are blaming a bottle rocket gone astray for a raging house fire.

I think we can all agree that one long, crazy night of pyrotechnics is not a huge deal in the grand scheme. But it's one of those quality-of-life issues that can rattle nerves, and it does raise a question. Where are the police?

"There are fireworks laws on the books and they are not being enforced," said Allan DiCastro, past president and current board member of the Mid-City Neighborhood Council.

DiCastro said pre-Fourth meetings with the LAPD haven't made the situation any better despite promises from police.

"If they started to write tickets here and there, on every block, believe me, the word would get out and it would come to a stop."

So what about it, LAPD?

"The biggest thing is prevention," said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, LAPD spokesman. "We'd rather prevent it than going around citing people."

This year, in an annual ritual, police, fire and other public officials reminded everyone that fireworks are illegal in Los Angeles. If that failed?

Our new City Atty. Mike Feuer promised there'd be swift prosecution of offenders.

But was there?

Smith said citywide numbers on citations aren't available yet, but 8,000 pounds of fireworks were confiscated. As for the Wilshire division, he said, there were 58 fireworks-related calls, and 17 officers, as well as two sergeants and a lieutenant, were assigned exclusively to "fireworks reduction."

The result?

On 18 calls, "people got warnings and in some of those cases, fireworks were confiscated."

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