Less than two months after the Miguelito Canyon wildfire forced the evacuation of south Lompoc, Fire Chief Kurt Latipow has undertaken an education campaign to advise residents about the proper use of “safe and sane” fireworks to avoid sparking another incident.
Lompoc, Santa Maria and Guadalupe are the only communities that allow safe and sane fireworks in Santa Barbara County.
All fireworks are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county along with the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Solvang and Buellton.
Latipow, the Lompoc Fire Department chief, recently warned residents that, although sales began Saturday, safe and sane fireworks can only be discharged between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. July 4 in Lompoc.
Using them at other times may result in citations and fines.
“The reason behind that restriction has everything to do with our ability to do extra staffing to deal with the hazards,” Latipow said, adding that other small California cities follow the same restrictions.
On May 13, the Miguelito Fire started off San Miguelito Canyon Road in the hills south of Lompoc, quickly burning 632 acres while threatening 1,200 homes and forcing evacuations. An untrimmed tree that came into contact with power lines started the fire, officials determined.
After the Miguelito Fire, the Lompoc City Council considered whether to issue a one-year ordinance to ban all fireworks, noting the ongoing drought and elevated fire danger. Ultimately, the council decided to still allow them.
Last year, before the council lifted the prohibition, Latipow had recommended keeping the fireworks ban in Lompoc, which is adjacent to hills and canyons covered in extremely dry vegetation. The recent fire only heightened his worry.
“My concern is very high but it always it,” Latipow said just days before this year’s fireworks sales begin.
This year, nonprofit organizations selling fireworks at the six booths in Lompoc are being encouraged to help educate buyers about the rules.
“What we’re hoping is the folks with the nonprofits in the booths will help us educate the citizens — please, protect your right to buy and discharge these safe and sane fireworks by paying attention to the rules,” Latipow said.
Each booth will have a large map pinpointing where the fireworks can be used.
“Surrounding the city limits is all red,” Latipow said. “The intent is for that to be a visual that if you’re buying fireworks, here’s where they’re approved. Don’t take them out of the city. Don’t discharge in the county.”
The fireworks allowed in Lompoc, Santa Maria and Guadalupe must be have the state-approved “safe and sane” label.
All other fireworks — typically those that are propelled — are banned.
The fire chiefs for the North County’s two largest cities noted they have “zero tolerance” for the possession, transportation and discharge of illegal fireworks. The violation may result in a citation, fines and possibly jail time.
“The illegal fireworks are a big concern because they fly through the air,” Latipow said. “They flash, they bang.
“So, even if you’re discharging what you feel is an illegal firework in what you feel is a safe area, you don’t know where it’s going to land, so that’s a concern.”
Additionally, the number of injuries from illegal fireworks outnumber those caused by safe and sane fireworks, he noted.
Latipow and Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr recently joined counterparts throughout the county for a chiefs’ meeting, and detailed measures they’re taking to keep fireworks from being used outside their cities.
They are both sensitive to the impacts fireworks sales in Lompoc and Santa Maria have on the other communities in the county, Latipow noted.
Officials throughout California are trying to crack down on the purchase of illegal fireworks.
“Until we can slow down the influx of illegal fireworks, we will continue to struggle with enforcement,” Latipow said.
Santa Maria again has set up a hotline — at 805.925.0951 x3473 — for people to report illegal fireworks sales, possession, and use. Callers can remain anonymous.
The hotline isn’t for emergencies; in those cases callers should dial 9-1-1.
Santa Maria has allowed residents to buy and use safe and sane fireworks for years, but Lompoc only began allowing them last year.
In Santa Maria, 21 designated stands began selling fireworks at noon Saturday and will continue through noon July 5. Fireworks can only be used during that time period, according to Orr.
In Guadalupe, a Kermit McKenzie Junior High School program will sell fireworks, starting Monday and running from noon to 8 p.m. in the downtown parking lot.
To help ensure people use the legal fireworks safely, the Lompoc Parks & Recreation Division created a “block party” application encouraging families and neighbors to celebrate the holiday and ignite safe and sane fireworks in a safe environment on closed city streets. Block party permits ensure proper signage is in place.
In addition to events in neighborhoods or on private property, Lompoc officials identified three parks — Johns-Manville, Pioneer and Thompson parks — that residents can request to use to host a block party.
And the officials have designated a downtown city parking lot near I Street and West Ocean Avenue as another place the legal fireworks can be used. This site was chosen to given residents of apartment complexes that prohibit fireworks a safe place to set them off, Latipow said.
Click here for Lompoc block party application packets, which also are available at the Anderson Recreation Center, 125 W. Walnut Ave. The deadline has been extended to noon Wednesday.
Because the Fourth of July falls on Friday, and due to a shortfall in funding, Lompoc decided to hold its Community Fireworks Show on Saturday night at Huyck Stadium at Lompoc High School, 515 W. College Ave. Gates open at 5 p.m.
Having the professional show on July 5 means the city will get a discount and a better show than the city budget typically would afford.
“My wish is for everybody to have a safe holiday,” Latipow said, urging people to attend the community event on July 5.
“If you choose to utilize safe and sane fireworks that’s your choice. Please adhere to the regulations.”