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Illegal Fireworks: A serious threat to California

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20 Years Ago



The primary focus of the state and most local police and fire agencies was illegal bottle rockets and firecrackers.

The use of illegal bottle rockets and firecrackers are dwarfed by the heavy importation and use of aerial shells rivaling or surpassing those used at most public fireworks displays.

It was just a local entrepreneurial crook who would go into a neighborhood and sell illegal fireworks out of the trunk of his car. This was a situation that local law enforcement could easily contain.

Large, out-of-state operations are shipping massive quantities of aerial displays and exploding items directly into California using independent truckers or via the internet.

It was just the occasional user of illegal fireworks that we had to be concerned about.

Many people are using illegal fireworks, in every

community, because of the sheer volume of illegal product available and their accessibility, but also, because in many communities, they don't fear any repercussion or consequences for their illegal actions.

This was a problem that local government could be expected to handle and control by itself.

It will now take a massive, coordinated effort between state, federal and local agencies if we are to stem the growing tide of illegal fireworks use in California.

Until the mid-90's, the SFM utilized the California Fire Incident Reporting System (CFIRS) to collect data on fires in California, including fireworks-related fires. Under CFIRS, a local fire department was required to detail and specify, where circumstantial or direct evidence confirmed, the actual type of fireworks device which served as either the "source of ignition" or a "contributing factor" to the fire.

Effective January 1, 2003, the SFM made a mandatory transition to the California All Incident Reporting System (CAIRS) which utilizes the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), a modular, "paper-less", nationally recognized reporting system designed by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The NFIRS system does not have the same degree of specificity, detail and/or reliability, as it relates to fireworks-related fires, as the data captured under the former CFIRS system. Unfortunately, NFIRS software lumps all fireworks (public display, illegal, state-approved and unknown/homemade explosives) into one broad category, with no detail as to what the device was, let alone whether it was illegal or state-approved.

California Health and Safety Code Section 12726 requires the SFM to dispose of "dangerous fireworks" and any fireworks that have been seized by a local fire and/or law enforcement agency within 60 days upon notification to the SFM or 10 days following legal proceedings. For years, the SFM and/or most local jurisdictions disposed of these products in either open pit burns or closed incinerator burns.

Due to environmental issues raised by Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), past practices of open burning for the disposal of seized dangerous fireworks were found to be in violation of state environmental laws and regulations. As a result, stockpiles of seized fireworks continued to grow in bunkers or storage facilities maintained by local departments. In the years 2003-2004, approximately 143 tons of seized dangerous fireworks were disposed of at a cost of approximately $900,000, with $700,000 of that cost coming in a one-time grant from the federal government. Pursuant to a written

agreement with US EPA, California was required to come up with a long-term solution to the disposal of the seized dangerous fireworks problem or be in jeopardy of having to pay back the $700,000 they received from the federal government. No local or state agency ever pursued cost-recovery from a criminal defendant for monies needed to pay for the proper disposal costs of these dangerous, illegal fireworks.


Download a compressed ZIP file containing news clips regarding illegal fireworks in California in 2006.

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