Cops ready to cite fireworks revelersBy Shelby Martin
As blazes in Big Sur cast a menacing red glare, some Northern California cities are stepping up their safety precautions in anticipation of Fourth of July fireworks.
"We'll be out in force" today, said Watsonville police Lt. Ed Gluhan.
The city will have a zero-tolerance policy for illicit fireworks.
"Some people who have gotten warnings in the past may not be so lucky this year," he said.
For the first time, Watsonville police can give out citations even for "safe and sane" devices like fountains and sparklers, since the city council forbade all fireworks this year. Fines range from $100 to $800.
Fire prevention officer Kirt Vojvoda said firefighters and police officers will probably seize fireworks in most cases rather than write citations because proving possession is often problematic.
"People are going to see the big red fire engine coming, and they'll just walk away" from their stash, Vojvoda said. "If we ask, 'Whose fireworks are these?' I don't think anyone will raise their hand."
In Pacifica, city officials are more aggressive about handing out citations. On the beach, "we can sneak around and find people," Police Chief Dave Bertini said.
This year's fire danger prompted that city to add a $1,000 fine for illegal fireworks this year, and to set an 11 p.m. curfew for the use of "safe and sane" fireworks.
"We have signs in almost every business," Bertini said. "We have lawn signs. We have two electronic signs at both ends of the town that say '$1,000 fine for illegal fireworks.' "
On the Fourth, Bertini said, "Everyone in the department works. Days off and holidays are canceled."
Also calling up extra manpower this year is the Santa Clara County Fire Department, which serves Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill and Saratoga as well as unincorporated areas.
Citing the holiday weekend, the change in weather and the depletion of Cal Fire resources by wildfires across the state, deputy chief Ken Kehmna said the county would be sending out four additional patrols in vehicles he likened to "off-road fire engines."
In Mountain View, the annual fireworks show at the Shoreline Amphitheatre will get an extra water tanker and more police officers.
"It's a drier season," said Dan Nitzan with Pyro Spectaculars, which is running the aerial extravaganza. He said police will keep an eye out for spectators who bring their own fireworks.
Operators of many public fireworks shows say increased fire danger hasn't forced them to alter the pyrotechnics themselves. However, organizers of the Spirit of America Show at Church on the Hill in San Jose, said they've trimmed bushes to avoid any accidental flare-ups.
Not all cities are making big changes. Officer Jermaine Thomas of the San Jose Police Department said the night would be "like any given Friday night," a sentiment echoed by Lt. Phil Cooke of the Santa Clara Police Department.
In Santa Clara, "we don't have any wild land, so there's no danger of brush fires," deputy fire chief Bill Kelly said.
San Jose fire Capt. Craig Schwinge, said there will be "augmented staffing" in the fire department this weekend, but that is not new this year. In San Jose, all personal fireworks are illegal, but Schwinge said busy firefighters don't chase down all showers of sparks. "Our greatest priority is life and property," he said.
The concern over fireworks has sparked at least one other change this year: consternation at a Watsonville Target.
Vojvoda said since the city banned all fireworks, he's been getting lots of phone calls about potential fireworks sales at stores like Target and Safeway.
The devices in question are party poppers packaged to look like fireworks.
"They're legal to sell," Vojvoda said. Employees of Watsonville Target heard so many complaints from confused customers that they pulled the party poppers off the shelves.
Vojvoda ended up printing a statement for the store saying, "These are not fireworks."
Copyright ©2008 San Jose Mercury News. Published 07/04/2008.