A final tally of citations, calls for service and fires in Riverside County during the Fourth of July weekend indicates that the unified approach taken by public safety agencies to stop illegal fireworks, combined with a public education campaign, netted positive results, officials said Wednesday.
According to the county Executive Office, the most impressive statistic was an 86% drop in acreage lost because of fireworks-related wildfires compared to 2020.
The county fire department additionally recorded a 10% decrease in reports of illegal fireworks. However, Cal Fire investigators did seize 800 pounds of unlicensed pyrotechnics and arrested eight people for possessing, transporting or using them.
“It was certainly a collaborative effort with our county partners,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said. “The amount of calls for service in 2020 required a substantial effort to reduce the negative impact that industrial fireworks in neighborhoods have on people, livestock and pets.”
Deputies responded to 4,827 reports of illegal fireworks between July 2-4, issuing 237 citations, Bianco said.
The Department of Code Enforcement, for the first time, was part of the crackdown, and personnel from the agency issued 26 citations.
“While working in concert with our public safety partners, code enforcement was present during the seizure of several hundred pounds of illegal fireworks, as well as multiple arrests and the recovery of a firearm,” agency Director Bob Magee said. “This joint operation helped us present a united public safety front while keeping the communities we serve safe.”
The Board of Supervisors authorized a public awareness campaign two months ahead of the Fourth to alert residents to potential perils of lighting fireworks illegally — and the consequences.
On May 11, the board approved revisions to Ordinance No. 858, which establishes a penalty formula for use and sales of illegal pyrotechnics. The action was in direct response to the experience on and around Independence Day 2020.
“The massive display of illegal fireworks lasted for days and was responsible for multiple fires, and overwhelmed the county’s 911 system, causing delays in critical responses to calls for help, stretching fire resources beyond their limits,” according to an Executive Office statement issued in May.
Under the amended ordinance, higher civil penalties, ranging between $1,000 and $5,000, were established. The previous fines were between $500 and $1,000.
The revisions also created liabilities for property owners who knowingly permit someone to light illegal fireworks, increasing penalties further.
The board allocated thousands of dollars to an “action plan” that included changeable message signs and billboards with the theme “You Light It, We’ll Write It,” notifying the public that steep fines were in store for violators of the fireworks control law.
The final provision of the revised ordinance gave the county fire chief authority to designate specific locations in unincorporated areas where so-called “safe and sane” fireworks can be sold and ignited. In Blythe, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Indio, the safe and sane devices — like sparklers, fountains and snappers that don’t shoot into the air — are permitted.