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Summer fires fuel fireworks safety debate

Raging fires in the Sierras have fueled concern for fire prevention and awareness throughout Nevada County ” especially regarding the threat of fire caused by fireworks.

With dry pines and half-dead manzanita peppering rural neighborhoods, people have been calling Tim Fike, battalion chief of Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, to voice their worries about Independence Day fireworks in the hands of abusers.

Fike has been urging people to contact their legislators, he said.



“It would be great if we could get legislation approved by the state to allow fireworks on January 1 for celebrating, rather than July 4. That way, the non-profits could still benefit,” Fike said. “It would be a lot safer to have fireworks in January than July.”

In May 2005, Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Artesia, proposed a bill to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations authorizing the sale of fireworks only from December 26 through January 1 each year. Fireworks manufacturers supported the bill, but it died in committee in January 2006.




So far this year, no similar bill has surfaced, legislative aides to Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, said this week. Nor has any organized movement appeared in Nevada County.

“I haven’t really heard anything official, but I know there is a strong interest in possibly having a ban,” said Victor Ferrera, program manager for the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services. “The New Year’s Eve thing would be a good compromise. Another option would be to have the purchase and sale of fireworks be fee-based, like a permit.”

Some readers of The Union have called for a total ban, calling the sale of fireworks “insane” ” a play on the “safe and sane” theme of fireworks manufacturers.

Nevada City and Grass Valley allow personal fireworks in most city areas. Local firefighters have worried an Independence Day ban in the cities could spark the use of illegal fireworks in remote areas ” making it difficult for fire engines to get in should a blaze erupt.

Allowing fireworks in the cities seems to be working, Grass Valley Fire Chief Jim Marquis said.

“We’ve not experienced a significant fireworks-related fire in western Nevada County for the 50-plus years that personal fireworks have been available,” Marquis said. “But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.”

Few fireworks citations

To add to the security, Grass Valley City Council members passed an ordinance in 2005 for greater fireworks restrictions.

“We really made some changes two years ago to make sure it’s safe,” Marquis said. “We’ve narrowed the use of fireworks to a six-hour window.”

Those who buy fireworks also must provide their full names and home addresses, and they receive a fireworks safety brochure at the stand.

This year, the number of citations issued for the misuse of fireworks was minimal, Marquis said. The only fire on July 4 was a small spot fire off Mooney Flat Road, the cause of which remains unknown, he added.

Even so, people remain on edge over the issue. Nevada County saw heavy rains, rapid vegetation growth and no fire in 2005 and 2006. This year, winter rain barely wetted the ground; by June, all that growth had moisture levels not usually seen until August.

Then the Angora Fire at Lake Tahoe burned more than 240 homes after an abandoned campfire went out of control. The Antelope Complex Fire in Plumas County, touched off by dry lightning, continues to rage after blackening nearly 23,000 acres.

One way of preventing devastating forest fires is by eliminating manmade causes such as fireworks, Fike said.

“Even if fireworks were banned by the two cities, we’re still going to have it because people are going to celebrate,” Fike said. But “if the sale were eliminated (at Independence Day), gradually fireworks would go away.”

“It’s something that the public enjoys,” Marquis said. “With the timing this year with the Angora Fire backdrop, there’s been some debate.”

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To contact Staff Writer Lindsey Croft, e-mail lindseyc@theunion.com or call 477-4247.


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