Exploding fines in San BrunoBy Dana Yates
Fines for illegal fireworks may be increased from $100 to $200 for first time offenders, from $200 to $400 for the second offense and from $500 to $1,000 for the third offense in the same year.
Next week's Fourth of July holiday combined with stretched fire resources has the San Bruno City Council considering doubling fines for lighting illegal fireworks.
The council will hold a special meeting today to considering changing the city's firework enforcement. If approved, the fines will increase from $100 to $200 for first time offenders, from $200 to $400 for the second offense and from $500 to $1,000 for the third offense in the same year, said City Manager Connie Jackson.
San Bruno is one of a handful of Bay Area cities that allows the sale of safe and sane fireworks. In light of the recent fires across the Bay Area, however, some cities are putting fireworks sales on hold as a safety precaution. The Watsonville City Council voted unanimously this week to ban sales after a major fire broke out near their city just three weeks ago. Pacifica City Council voted to increase fines up to $1,000.
San Bruno's only option is to increase fines because a 2005 initiative in which resident voted to maintain fireworks sales in the city prohibits the council from canceling sales. By law, the council only has the authority to increase fines. It cannot, like Watsonville, put sales on hold as a safety precaution.
Jackson said she is explaining the law to more residents this year who are calling City Hall concerned about firework sales during one of the state's busiest fire seasons.
An estimated 800 fires were sparked in the state following a lighting storm last week. Approximately 80 firefighters from San Mateo County are currently battling fires burning near Humboldt. Before that, the county's three strike teams were fighting the Watsonville fire.
With resources stretched thin, San Mateo Fire Chief Dan Belville said departments are finding it harder to commit additional firefighters to fires elsewhere in the state. The Fourth of July holiday is often one of the busiest times of year for fire departments. San Mateo, for example, will staff one additional fire engine to cover the number of calls it receives over the holiday weekend, Belville said.
Meanwhile, firefighters continue to respond to grass and structure fires throughout San Mateo County. Last weekend, a grass fire burned approximately 300-acres on San Bruno Mountain in Brisbane, a three-alarm fire broke out in a San Mateo home and two two-alarm fires broke out in Daly City and Foster City.
"People are nervous and rightfully so," Belville said. "We are getting small grass fires and we're getting a lot more calls and we're responding to all smoke investigations code two."
Code two is an urgent response.
Each summer strike teams consisting each of five engines, 20 firefighters, a battalion chief and a chief trainee are dispatched to help wildfires throughout the state. In recent years, more than one strike team is being called into service at one time, Belville said.
Three weeks ago, all three San Mateo County strike teams - approximately 80 people including specialist positions - were dispatched to the Watsonville fires. Once there, the teams were immediately dispatched to the Humboldt fires, Belville said.
A request for more strike teams was issued to fire departments on Wednesday evening. Judging by e-mail responses, Belville said approximately 50 percent of the state's fire chief's are agreeing to deploy more resources. Most departments can't afford to deploy firefighters elsewhere when Fourth of July will bring more fireworks, fire and medical emergency calls within their own cities, Belville said.
"If it were February, we'd probably be able to do more," Belville said.
To prepare for the busy Fourth of July weekend, fire and police departments are drafting action plans that detail how they will work together, Belville said.
In San Bruno, the fire department is working closely with police and will call in help from the Daly City Police Department and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. The county's fire departments already have a mutual response agreement, Jackson said.
"The city always takes a very strong preventative approach to the Fourth of July," Jackson said.
There is nothing to suggest the San Bruno community is at risk, Jackson said.
Illegal fireworks fines up to $1,000 might help ensure that.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 06/27/2008.