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Patrols to Confiscate Illegal Holiday Fireworks

Times Staff Writer

What would the Fourth of July be without fireworks? Safe.

This is the message that San Diego police and fire officials hope to relay as they patrol the city on Independence Day in an effort to curb the number of fireworks-related injuries and grass fires that occur over the holiday.

Ten two-person teams will issue citations and confiscate illegal fireworks. Last year eight such teams, consisting of one firefighter and one police officer, confiscated five trash-can loads of illegal fireworks, which they turned over to the city’s bomb squad for supervised detonation.

City officials are encouraging San Diegans to attend licensed fireworks displays throughout the county.

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“Safe and sane” fireworks, including sparklers, snakes and noisemakers, are legal in California, but local governments have the right to override state law and ban the sale of fireworks within their jurisdiction. Safe and sane fireworks, which by state law cannot explode or ignite projectiles, are available in Orange and Imperial counties, but not in San Diego County.

“These safe and sane fireworks are neither safe nor sane,” said Logan Bellows, the San Diego Fire Department’s community education officer.

Sparklers, which are the most popular pyrotechnics across the country, also cause the greatest number of injuries. The seemingly harmless and fascinating sticks of light can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees and caused 78 cases of second-degree and two cases of third-degree burns in California in 1984.

“These things aren’t sane. They’re insane,” said Al McDonald, San Diego Fire Department spokesman. “Somewhere down the line someone is going to get hurt if people insist upon using these things.”

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Explosive fireworks are often purchased in Mexico and then smuggled across the border or purchased through mail order catalogues. These include firecrackers, cherry bombs, sky rockets and M-80s, which Bellows calls “quarter-sticks of dynamite.”

M-80s are capped at each end with plaster of Paris heads that, when detonated, become projectiles moving at speeds up to 50 miles per hour.

Last year, San Diego County reported three fireworks-related injuries compared to 104 injuries in the same period for Orange County, where safe and sane fireworks are legal. Two of the reported injuries in San Diego involved illegal fireworks and the third was of unknown origin.

In 1983, one year before the formation of the two-man fireworks patrols, 11 fireworks-related injuries were reported in San Diego County.

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During the 1984 holiday, a licensed pyrotechnician sufferred second- and third-degree burns over most of the upper half of his body when a case of aerial fireworks exploded prematurely. “This man was a trained professional. Imagine what happens when these things get in the hands of children,” McDonald said.

Personal injuries aren’t the only thing that have San Diego police and fire departments worried. Grass fires are frequently started by the sparks ignited in a fireworks explosion. State fire marshal statistics for a one-year period ending July 16, 1984, report that fireworks were responsible for 16 San Diego County grass fires that caused an estimated $300 in damage.

“Many areas in San Diego are extremely vulnerable to any type of spark whether it be from car exhaust, discarded cigarettes or ignited fireworks which can reach temperatures higher than those of a lighted match,” Bellows said. According to McDonald, most grass fires are caused by careless children. During the school year the San Diego Fire Department administers fire safety programs in elementary schools, but fireworks are generally not considered an issue until July when most children are on summer vacation.

“We spend a lot of time and effort to educate children all year long trying to teach them not to play with matches, and then suddenly on July 4, society tells them it’s OK to play with explosives,” said Barbara Burakoff, program director of the San Diego Burn Institute.

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There will be fireworks displays around the county, many of which will display recent breakthroughs in pyrotechnic chemistry, showing a wider range of colors and patterns. The displays are on July 4 unless noted:

- Carlsbad: Plaza Camino Real, 9 p.m.

- Chula Vista: J Street Pier, dusk.

- Coronado: Glorietta Bay, dusk.

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- El Cajon: Gillespie Field.

- Escondido: high school (July 3), 8:30 p.m.

- Imperial Beach: pier, 9 p.m.

- Mira Mesa, dusk.

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- Mission Bay: Hospitality Point, after Pops concert.

- National City: Kimball Park, 9 p.m.

- Ocean Beach: pier, 9 p.m.

- Oceanside: pier, 9 p.m.

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- Ramona: San Diego Country Estates, 9 p.m.

- Rancho Bernardo, 9 p.m.

- San Diego: San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium (Tuesday), after Padres game.

- San Diego: Sea World, 9:40 p.m.

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- Santee Lakes, 8:30 p.m.

- Spring Valley: Park, 9 p.m.

- Tierrasanta (Sunday), 8:30-9 p.m.

- Vista: Brengle Terrace Park, 9 p.m.

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