Legal fireworks stands feed other areas

The fireworks stand at Newport Boulevard and East 17th Street was relatively slow the Tuesday before Independence Day.

Some volunteers tidied stacks of fireworks inside the stand. Others happily assisted customers with pyrotechnic purchases.

After trading a $20 bill for a bag of sparklers, one woman hurried back to her car, not eager to stop and chat.

"These aren't legal where I live," she said, declining to give her name for fear of repercussions. "But I'm only getting sparklers."

Residents from across Orange County travel to Costa Mesa every July to buy the "safe and sane" fireworks banned in their own cities.

Costa Mesa is one of eight cities in the county — the others are Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Stanton, Villa Park and Westminster — that allow the sale and use of pyrotechnics in celebration of the Fourth of July. Each year, Costa Mesa allows fireworks to be used from 4 to 10 p.m. July 2 to 4.

Fireworks that are dubbed safe and sane don't fly into the air or explode, and they bear a special state logo, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Thirty-seven stands in Costa Mesa began selling safe-and-sane fireworks Monday and will continue to do so through the holiday, functioning as fundraising enterprises for local nonprofits and booster programs.

Yumi Patterson, the cheer advisor at Estancia High School, has helped run the firework stand at Newport Boulevard and East 17th Street for the past five years.

Patterson's stand raises money for Estancia's cheer and wrestling teams. Last year, the stand made about $7,000 in profits.

The hut, which is in front of the Del Taco near the city's border with Newport Beach, is somewhat unique.

"We get a lot of traffic from other cities," Patterson said. "There's a lot of people that will stop on their way to the beach or coming home from Newport."

The majority of people from neighboring cities buy sparklers, she said.

While Newport Beach police are aware of the activity, there is little they can do to prevent residents from buying pyrotechnics in other cities and bringing them home, said Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella.

"We do the best we can to prevent it," she said, adding that once fireworks are set off in the city, the ban becomes easier to enforce.

Police will rely on complaints from neighbors to figure out where the fireworks are during the holiday. Shooting off fireworks in Newport Beach and other nearby cities can result in hefty fines, Manzella said.

"We have to encourage everyone to refrain from lighting off fireworks of any kind," she said. "Still, the police won't be storming people's backyards to do sporadic sparkler checks."

The department will employ an additional 73 personnel from surrounding cities and the Orange County Sheriff's Department to assist Newport officers in fireworks enforcement during the holiday, Manzella said.

Residents of neighboring cities often ask volunteers working in the stands where it's legal to celebrate with fireworks. People also show up at the safe-and-sane fireworks stands looking for illegal fireworks like bottle rockets and cherry bombs, Patterson said.

"That gives us the chance to open up that dialogue and explain that there's ways to still have fun with the legal fireworks we sell," she said.

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