Modesto task force on the lookout for illegal fireworks this weekend

Police officers and firefighters have teamed for the Fourth of July weekend to find and cite people with illegal fireworks.

They are hoping their efforts will reduce the number of fires, which at this time last year more than doubled.

During the four days surrounding the holiday last year, Modesto firefighters responded to 32 fires, including five structure fires and 11 grass fires. The average for a four-day period is 14 fires, said Modesto Fire Department Battalion Chief Hugo Patino.

The Fire Department developed an incident action plan, typical for the Fourth of July or large events such as X-Fest, to manage the higher call volume.

As part of the plan, there will be as many as nine additional firefighters on three engines and an additional battalion chief.

For mutual aid, the Modesto Fire Department is working with the Ceres Fire Department and Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, which will add a battalion chief to the dispatch center to help coordinate calls.

Modesto police will dedicate six officers and a sergeant to work with six fire investigators who will search for and cite people using illegal fireworks.

A municipal code violation for possession, sales, use or discharge of dangerous fireworks comes with a fine of $1,000, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves. If someone has a large amount of illegal fireworks or is using them in a particularly dangerous manner, officers can arrest them on penal code or health and safety code violations.

The task force launched Thursday evening and will continue working until early Sunday.

Patino said Thursday afternoon that his department had not been exceptionally busy, but that it’s difficult to determine if that will hold true through the weekend.

“Last year was incredibly busy, but years before, we would have a rush for two or three hours when the sun goes down and then it’s over,” He said. “You still have to staff up and prepare in the event that it’s going to be busy.”

Even with the additional staffing, he said the department can call in firefighters who aren’t scheduled to work this weekend if it should need more.

Patino said, “We want everyone to have a grand and glorious Fourth; we also want people to be extremely careful when using fireworks and certainly only use the California state fire marshal-approved ‘safe and sane’ fireworks.”

Even when using those, he said, people should have a bucket of water and garden hose nearby, always douse the fireworks with water before putting them in the trash and never use them near combustibles.

To report illegal fireworks, call dispatch at (209) 552-2470.