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Scarcity of Fireworks Sparks Demand

Special to the Times

Fillmore’s annual fireworks sale started with a bang Saturday, as throngs of eager customers lined up at the colorful booths along the city’s main street even before the windows opened at noon.

“You look forward to it all year and you want to be the first in line,” said Mark Mesko, a Valencia father who was one of 30 customers queued up when volunteers starting ringing up sales at the popular Fillmore High School Athletics Boosters booth.

For Mesko, who bought $150 worth of fireworks, and many others, the tradition will continue with huge Fourth of July block parties highlighted by a succession of colorful fountains and screaming Piccolo Petes.

And in the meantime, the 25 Fillmore nonprofit organizations allowed to sell the pyrotechnics expect to fill their coffers with more than $400,000 in profits, and the city typically collects enough booth fees to cover most of the $9,000 cost of its own professional fireworks display.

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For each of the last two years, fireworks sales have generated more than $1.3 million for vendors, which take home about 30% of the total as profits, officials said. The booths are especially lucrative because Fillmore is the only city in Ventura County where fireworks sales are allowed.

A county ordinance outlaws selling, possessing or using even the “safe and sane” variety sold in Fillmore. But while county fire officials last year asked the Fillmore City Council to suspend fireworks sales, the panel refused.

The fireworks ban, “to me, is just un-American,” said Matt Flad, a Fillmore resident who runs the Athletic Boosters booth and who can’t imagine celebrating Independence Day without setting off his own fireworks.

Violators could be fined or jailed, although Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Joe Luna said fire crews probably would merely confiscate “safe and sane” fireworks, citing their owners only if they were used in fire-prone areas.

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“It’s not really enforceable. If anything, they would take them away,” said Ken Nash of Moorpark, who was buying $11 worth of strobe lights and Piccolo Petes at the Athletics Boosters booth. “I can spare to lose $2 in fireworks.”

The state fire marshal classifies fireworks that don’t explode or fly through the air as safe and sane, but even these “will hurt you and cause fires if used inappropriately,” Luna said.

Two years ago, kids using fireworks their parents had bought in Fillmore sparked the 265-acre Lang Ranch fire in Westlake, Luna said. And seven years ago, two teens started a 400-acre brush fire in the hills above Ventura while playing with fireworks from Fillmore.

“Those nonprofit organizations need to make money. I just wish they would find a different venue,” Luna said.

But nothing else could bring in the kind of money that the youth, civic, church and service groups need, Flad said.

The Athletic Boosters last year netted $36,000 for tournament fees and transportation costs, which run high because Fillmore is far from nearly every game and tournament. The money also bought new uniforms for almost all the teams. Some hadn’t been replaced in almost 10 years.

“It’s just a low-income town. We just don’t have the ability to bring in the income without something like this that draws people from outside the city,” Flad said. “You can only have so many car washes in our little town.”


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