A dry winter and the culmination of six consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures will make for prime fire conditions come Independence Day.
Police and firefighters will be on the lookout for illegal fireworks over the next week, enforcing state and local laws prohibiting their use.
Under state law, those cited in connection with illegal fireworks face fines of up to $50,000 and jail terms of up to one year. State law also holds parents liable for any fire damage or injury caused by their children using illegal fireworks.
In addition, Modesto police will impose a mandatory $1,000 administrative fine on those who are caught with less than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks. Fines increase and can come with jail time as the weight increases.
In the past, fires linked to Fourth of July celebrations invariably have been traced to illegal fireworks, which often explode or shoot up in the air, said Dennis Revell, spokesman for TNT Fireworks, the nation's largest distributor of legal fireworks.
"If it flies, darts or explodes, it's illegal," said Ceres Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Bryan Nicholes.
His firefighters use some discretion before having police issue citations and usually offer people an ultimatum: Give up the rest of the illegal fireworks they hid before firefighters arrived and they won't get a citation.
"Most of the time, they voluntarily give them up," Nicholes said.
Of course, some uses of illegal fireworks are so negligent there is no room for bargaining. Last year, Ceres police cited a group of people setting off illegal fireworks from a moving vehicle.
Illegal fireworks have become a major problem throughout California, Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll said in a news release.
He said criminal gangs import large amounts of sophisticated pyrotechnics and sell them at a profit.
"We need everyone's help to have a safe Fourth of July," Carroll said in the release. "Purchasers and users of illegal fireworks may think they are buying something that will allow them to have some harmless fun, but they often get more than they bargain for, causing injuries and damage to property — and breaking the law, regardless of the quantity they use or their claims of ignorance about what is illegal."
State-approved fireworks have been extensively tested by safety experts, according to Revell. While they deliver an exciting show, they do not go up in the air, explode or bounce on the ground in an uncontrolled manner. Nonprofit groups sell these fireworks in close to 300 communities in California that have approved their use.
Legal fireworks must be used in their original form. Modifying them turns them into explosives under state law, Nicholes said, which is a felony.
Nicholes said Ceres firefighters make several trips to fireworks stands to ensure they are selling legal fireworks but also to ensure the organization operating the stand is not being solicited illegal fireworks.
Legal fireworks include a "Safe and Sane" logo from the California fire marshal on the packaging, but some illegal fireworks, especially those from out of the country, may have a forged logo on them.
People traveling out of the county for the Fourth of July should be aware that some areas have a ban on every type of firework. Those areas in the foothills include all of Tuolumne County, even Sonora; the Ebbetts Pass Fire District in Calaveras County Stanislaus National Forest in both counties; and along any state highway rights of way.
Stanislaus County residents are encouraged to help identify those using or trafficking illegal fireworks by calling the nonemergency dispatch number with details at (209) 552-3911.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366.
AT A GLANCEAll legal fireworks are marked with the state marshal's "Safe and Sane" seal.
• For less than 25 pounds gross weight of illegal fireworks, including packaging: Misdemeanor; in the city of Modesto, a mandatory $1,000 fine
• For 25 pounds to 100 pounds gross weight, inlcuding packaging: Misdemeanor; one year in county jail and-or $1,000 to $5,000 fine
WHERE ARE FIREWORKS LEGAL?
Where legal in California, fireworks must be "Safe and Sane." Modifying them is a felony. They can be sold from noon Thursday until noon July 5. You must be 16 or older to buy them.
• Stanislaus County: Legal, with one exception; "Piccolo Petes," which whistle, are illegal in Turlock
• Merced County: Illegal, except in Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Merced, Livingston, Los Banos
• Tuolumne County: Illegal
• San Joaquin County: Illegal except in Ripon, Vernalis, Escalon, Manteca
• Calaveras County: Illegal in the Central Fire Protection District in Mountain Ranch as well as Ebbetts Pass by Arnold
• Mariposa County: Illegal
The fire marshal suggest these guidelines:
• Always read directions
• Have an adult present
• Do not use near dry grass
• Light one item at a time
• Keep a safe distance
• Never point or throw fireworks
• Never experiment with fireworks
• Have water handy
• Never attempt to relight
• Never carry fireworks in pockets
• Do not wear loose-fitting clothingAT A GLANCE
All legal fireworks are marked with the state marshal's "Safe and Sane" seal.
• Legal fireworks:
• Cone, base, box or tube fountains
• Hand-held items
• Novelty items
• Smoke items
• Illegal fireworks:
• Cherry bombs
• Roman candles
• Silver salutes
• Bottle rockets
• Aerial shells and mortars