City leaders announce major
crackdown on illegal fireworks
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
June 7, 2018
Merced city leaders this week announced
what they call an “aggressive Zero Tolerance”
policy to combat illegal fireworks leading up to the annual
Fourth of July celebrations in the region.
They say the critical effort — which
includes fines of up to $2,000 and even the possibility
of imprisonment — to cut down on fires, injuries,
noise, lost pets and neighborhood disruptions.
“At this time of the year, people just have to listen
to the noise, and look up at the night sky to see the problem
that we have in our city,” said Mayor Mike Murphy.
“We are asking people to be good neighbors, and if
they are going to set off fireworks to use only the Safe
& Sane ones.”
The zero tolerance policy is in effect for any fireworks
not labelled “safe and sane” by the California
State Fire Marshall. Basically, if it explodes or leaves
the ground, it’s not safe and sane.
Extra police officers will be on patrol over the Fourth
of July holidays to enforce fireworks violations. There
also is a special phone number and email for people to report
Last year, City Councilman Kevin Blake was the first city
leader to ask for the increased enforcement against illegal
“Merced has looked like a battle zone with the sky
lit up with skyrockets and the air filled with explosions,”
Blake said. “I received a number of calls from constituents
who had to medicate their pets because they were traumatized.”
Said Murphy: “They scare little kids, senior citizens,
and our veterans … We need to show consideration for
While not all fires can be attributed to illegal fireworks,
last year on July 4, dispatchers received 75 percent more
calls than the average day, according to Fire Department
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, leaders were
supportive of the new enforcement and public outreach strategy
— with the latter — including fliers, banners
and online information — being funded by private community
However, at least one resident at the meeting spoke up
and asked leaders to consider a reality check.
“Twenty years ago, they didn’t want to sell
marijuana publicly,” said Fernando Echeverria. “We
have to look to the future, and the future is people will
always buy fireworks. … You are not going to stop
it. If you do, you are going to waste money by going after
people like those who were smoking marijuana. … The
answer is maybe in the near future — 10 or 20 years
from now — you will have a special area and special
booths, so they can buy their illegal fireworks and they
can shoot them off as much as they want. Everybody can make
money off of it, and that’s what we are going to look
at … The future of fireworks is not going to be trying
to stop them. It’s not going to happen. It’s
like marijuana. It’s going to be here, and its going
to be a part of us.”
At least one city leader, Councilman Anthony Martinez,
agreed that the new zero tolerance policy will be difficult
to enforce, and he offered another suggestion for the future.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Martinez
said. “People spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars
on these things every year, and I feel like they’re
gonna light them. We can try and crack the whip, and I think
that’s definitely a route we need to take —
to come down harder than we have been — but I’m
also wondering if going forward we may want to look at how
we can provide an alternative for families … Instead
of them spending hundreds of dollars maybe we can provide
a free fireworks show … Maybe free to entry, but then
we have various business selling whatever, and that’s
how money can be made … I’m wondering if going
forward, we may want to make our own celebration that we
can make safe, and will be an alternative to people who
would otherwise do illegal activities.”
Cops Mean Business
Meanwhile, three men and a woman have already been arrested
for sale of illegal fireworks in recent days. Officers from
the DART team arrested two Livingston men and a Winton man
last weekend on charges of selling illegal fireworks, advertisement
of illegal fireworks and conspiracy to sell illegal fireworks.
Officers seized a large amount of fireworks and $666 in
cash in an undercover operation. The three men were booked
in the Merced County Jail. On Monday, the DART team rresponded
to a Craigslist advertisement selling illegal fireworks.
DART officers met with a Ceres woman in a hardware store
parking lot in Merced County. She was arrested for selling
illegal fireworks and advertisement of illegal fireworks,
and booked at the Merced County Jail.
· “Safe and sane” fireworks with the
State Fire Marshal seal of approval can only be used from
noon June 28 through noon July 6.
· The non-safe and sane fireworks are illegal year-round,
· If fireworks can leave the ground or go up in
the air they are illegal. Illegal fireworks include cherry
bombs, bottle rockets, mortars, aerial shells, M-80s and
During the Fourth of July holiday period special teams
of police officers and firefighters will be patrolling the
City streets tracking down fireworks violators. Once found,
the fireworks will be confiscated and the owners will be
cited. Repeat offenders could end up in court.
Anyone caught possessing, using or selling dangerous or
illegal fireworks is subject to fines ranging from $1,000
to $2,000 as well as criminal prosecution.
How To Report
The number 209-388-SAFE became active June 1, and people
are encouraged to report anyone they see or know who is
buying, selling or distributing illegal fireworks. Someone
will answer the line as available, but all messages will
be followed up on.
Residents can report illegal fireworks displays before
the holidays by calling 911.
During July 3 and 4 people are being asked to call 209-388-SAFE
(7233) to report illegal fireworks displays, not 911, in
order to keep the emergency dispatchers free for urgent
On July 3 and 4 there will be a call center opened from
8 p.m. to 2 a.m. and operators will be answering the phones
and sending reports of illegal fireworks directly to dispatchers.
The information will be forwarded to teams in the field.
Part of the problem with illegal fireworks is that authorities
usually receive multiple calls for any one offender. One
neighbor setting off numerous skyrockets can swamp the 911
dispatchers with many calls on the same incident. The 209-388-SAFE
number relieves pressure on the emergency dispatchers but
still allows the illegal fireworks to get reported and acted
In addition, people can report illegal fireworks by sending
an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those emails
will also get forwarded to authorities.
A third option is to report illegal fireworks using the
Merced Connect app. The Merced Connect app is free and available
at the Apple Store and Google Play. In addition to allowing
you to report illegal fireworks, residents can obtain other
information about City government.
The City also will hold a fireworks Safe Surrender Day
from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 30 at Station 51,
99 E. 16th St. where people can turn in illegal fireworks
with no questions asked.