H.B. fireworks keep safety officers jumping

The Fourth of July is arguably the busiest day for Huntington Beach police and fire departments, and Friday's festivities put safety officials through their paces.

Though authorities informally noted the night seemed about on par with last year, police and fire officials reported Monday that about 200 pounds of fireworks were confiscated and dozens of arrests made for various incidents during the holiday weekend.


In the dispatch center Friday, the calls became increasingly heavy throughout the day. By 7 p.m. the phones were ringing nearly nonstop as emergency dispatchers and several fireworks suppression teams — specialized groups consisting of two officers and an arson investigator — managed hundreds of fireworks complaints by residents.

Officer Ed Clair, who worked the phones Friday, said the day offered the possibility of a "perfect storm." Not only was the weather in Huntington Beach great, but the holiday landed on a Friday, ushering in a weekend and the chance for continued celebrating.


"You never know what the day is going to bring," he said.

Clair, a 33-year veteran with the Police Department, was accompanied by 15 other dispatchers working the first holiday in two years that a ban on so-called safe-and-sane fireworks was in place.

Many calls between 4 and 6 p.m. were 911 hang-ups and reports of people parking in emergency zones. Clair even fielded a call reporting an Uber driver in a dispute with his passengers.

The pace picked up starting at about 7 p.m., as the dispatchers' incident logs rapidly filled with fireworks complaints.


In a briefing room down the hall, Capt. Russell Reinhart gave fireworks suppression teams a rundown on what they could expect to encounter in the field.

Detectives Jason Burton and Mike Thomas and arson investigator Kevin Wyman made up a patrol team emphasizing the southern area of Huntington Beach.

The group had barely left the police station in an undercover vehicle when the dispatcher reported five to six locations where illegal fireworks were in use.

Burton, who was behind the wheel, darted to one of the areas, slowing his pace as he approached to allow his colleagues to scan the surroundings in an attempt to catch a crime in action.

But repeatedly, the fireworks would stop by the time the team rolled up.

When Burton drove to a call off Edwards Street and Garfield Avenue, the suppression team was in awe of the fireworks show coming from the small neighborhood. The spectacle was easily seen a mile away and resembled a professional production.

But again, as Burton drove through the gated community of multimillion dollar homes, all the team found was a cul-de-sac filled with debris and no residents in sight.

"In order to actually cite for a misdemeanor crime, it has to be committed in our presence," Burton said about the personal use of any type of fireworks in the city. "So if we're not actually seeing them commit a misdemeanor, then all we can really do is give them a verbal warning and try and be stern with them."


At about 9 p.m., the team responded to a call near Alabama Street and Venice Avenue and observed a man lighting mortar fireworks in the street.

The group generally went easy on people using sparklers or fountains, if responsibly used in a safe area. What the safety officials were mainly after were aerial and loud devices, like mortars, bottle rockets and M-80s.

Wyman said these devices are dangerous to the users and surrounding property.

Burton and Thomas warned one suspect who had just lighted a mortar about half a block away from the undercover car and confiscated several other fireworks in his possession.

"It could shoot into a crowd, and I've seen that happen," Wyman said. "There's also the danger to all the structures around it."

His statement seemed prescient. About an hour later, the fireworks suppression team responded to a blaze near Alabama and Springfield Avenue.

A pine tree in front of an apartment complex had caught fire after a mortar shot upward.

The Huntington Beach Fire Department responded to the scene and doused the embers. No people were injured or other property damaged.

The team took about an hour trying to identify the person who started the fire. After talking to witnesses who were not willing to testify on the record, the suppression team was able only to cite the person, who faced a $500 fine. Wyman said they were trying to arrest the man on suspicion of arson.

"If they want to remain anonymous, you can't use their statement in a police report," Thomas said. "We're not going to put their information in the report and jeopardize their safety."

Police Chief Robert Handy and Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh reported during Monday's City Council meeting that 180 pounds of fireworks were confiscated during the holiday, of which 18 pounds were devices that are legal in California.