Authorities gear up for Fourth of July

Sunday marks the first time in 25 years for Huntington Beach to allow the sale and discharge of so-called "safe and sane" fireworks.

And although both the city's police and fire chiefs expressed strong opposition to lifting the ban because of the departments' already strained resources and the possible fires that could generate, the departments say they are prepared to keep things under control.

Despite the possibility of fireworks-related incidents, police enforcement plans are much like last year, mainly because the city doesn't have enough officers to schedule, said Lt. Mitch O'Brien.

Everyone in the department is scheduled to work, and each one is assigned a task for the day — which, for Huntington Beach, begins at midnight when some of the thousands of visitors start lining up to get parking near the beach.

"We'll have fireworks calls," O'Brien said. "How extensive it's going to be? I guess we'll find out on July 4th and after we tally the statistics."

Five fire-suppression teams, made up of two police officers and a fire marshal, are scheduled to monitor fireworks activities and ensure that none are used in the restricted areas. The number of the suppression teams hasn't changed from last year, O'Brien said.

When the City Council voted 5 to 2 in January to lift the ban for a trial period of two years, strict restrictions were put in place to ensure safety and minimize fire risks.

Fireworks are not allowed in city beaches, parks, environmentally sensitive areas, anywhere on the ocean-facing side of Pacific Coast Highway, downtown and every street except sidewalks and alleys in residential districts.

This year, the fire suppression teams will start working on July 1, when 10 nonprofits will sell fireworks throughout Huntington as part of an agreement with the city and the Fourth of July executive board.

Fireworks are not allowed to be discharged until noon on July 4, but O'Brien said he suspects some people won't follow the rules.

"I would say they probably will [discharge them]," he said. "I know when I was a kid, I did."

Private security and members from the Orange County Sheriff's Department will also be on hand to assist with the day's activities.

O'Brien said although things are going to be different from years past, his department staff has a lot of experience with the Fourth of July in Huntington Beach, and predicts the day will pass without major problems.

"I'm an optimistic person," he said. "I think we'll be fine."

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