Thanks to a raft of illegal fireworks being fired off, Merced County residents using the banned fireworks could soon be subjected to higher fines if caught.
On Tuesday, the Merced County Board of Supervisors discussed taking further action to enforce the law against illegal fireworks year after an uptick in their use in recent years.
A 2014 resolution from the board prohibited the sale or use of illegal fireworks in the county, but county officials noted the difficulty with enforcement.
“Unless you see these guys light whatever explosive device, it’s real tough for us,” Sheriff Vernon Warnke said.
The recent uptick in illegal fireworks use has resulted in more fires throughout Mered County.
From 2017-2019, the unincorporated areas of Merced County had 33 wildland fires that were caused by illegal fireworks, totalling $4,550 in property damage over 55 acres burned.
Those numbers skyrocketed in 2020 during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic as people were confined to their homes and events were cancelled.
Last year saw 39 wildland fires in the unincorporated areas of Merced County. Those fires caused $41,400 in property damage and covered 80 acres.
Over the last five years, the unincorporated areas of Merced County also experienced four structure fires due to illegal fireworks use, which resulted in $467,000 in property loss and one civilian injury.
As the board discussed possible action to curb the damage caused by fireworks, Warnke noted that his office sees the vast majority of issues caused by illegal fireworks instead of the typical “safe and sane” fireworks that are sold at the pop-up stands around the Fourth of July.
“What I hear a lot right now, it’s not the safe and sane that are going off,” Warnke said. “It’s the illegals year round. These sons of guns, when they blow up they blow up, and the concussions that you’re feeling, that’s real stuff. That’s real danger, and we still have to deal with it, the aftermath.”
Warnke suggested that the current penalties for violating the ban on illegal fireworks are not enough.
Currently, anyone who is found guilty of using or selling illegal fireworks faces a $1,000 fine for the first offense, a $2,000 fine for a second offense within one year and a $3,000 fine for a third offense within a year.
Violators could also face imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months.
The board directed county staff to explore phone applications for reporting illegal fireworks and to meet with the county District Attorney’s Office to explore the possibilities to raise fines and implement further penalties.
The board expects to take up the issue once again over the next couple of months to take action.