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Dry Conditions, Mesa Fire Spark Officials’ Concerns About Use of Fireworks

Only safe and sane versions are allowed in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe while all types are banned throughout the rest of Santa Barbara County

Customers buy fireworks from the Lompoc Valley Baptist School booth, one of a handful in Lompoc on Monday evening. The City of Lompoc allows the use of fireworks only between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July.
Customers buy fireworks from the Lompoc Valley Baptist School booth, one of a handful in Lompoc on Monday evening. The City of Lompoc allows the use of fireworks only between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Mesa Fire near Lompoc has reignited concerns about the use of safe and sane fireworks for the Fourth of July, with officials reminding residents to use extreme precaution amid the very dry conditions and only in the three North County cities that allow sales.

For the third year, booths are set up at strategic locations and sales began at noon Sunday in Lompoc, one of three North County cities to allow the sale and use of safe and sane fireworks. In Santa Maria, 25 nonprofit groups are selling safe and sane fireworks from booths set up in the city, continuing sales that have gone on for more than a decade. Guadalupe also allows them to be sold and used.

The state-certified safe and sane fireworks are those that don’t fly or explode. 

Santa Barbara County’s other cities plus unincorporated areas, such as Orcutt, still prohibit all types of fireworks, according to Capt. David Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

“People need to understand the safe and sane fireworks are only allowed in the cities that they're sold," Zaniboni said.

While fireworks are not suspected of sparking the Mesa Fire, the area’s extremely dry vegetation and severe drought have renewed concerns about whether even safe and sane fireworks should be allowed locally. The Lompoc council reaffirmed its support in January despite fierce objections from the city’s fire and police chiefs.

As flames consumed dry vegetation, people on Lompoc-centric social media sites post critical comments regarding allowing the sale and use of safe and sane fireworks in the city.

“The Mesa incident is a very graphic example of just how dry the brush is, how quickly a fire can spread,” said Chief Kirk Latipow of the Lompoc Fire Department. “As we move into the Fourth of July, it’s our hope that folks, if they feel compelled they have to celebrate with fireworks, that they use the ‘safe and sane’ ones that are sold at stands in communities where they are legal.”

He also encouraged residents to discharge and discard of the fireworks per the manufacturers’ instructions.

People should not risk a chance of a wildfire by igniting any fireworks near brush, even those labeled safe and sane, he said.

“You can take a ‘safe and sane’ firework and set it in the brush and it will ignite a fire,” he said.

Latipow noted that improper disposal of fireworks sparked a blaze that damaged two north Merced homes recently. One of the homes belonged to an on-duty firefighter, according to the Merced Sun-Star article, which said investigators blamed the blaze on teenagers who discarded smoldering fireworks in a trash bin, leading to the fire.

Other tips include having water — a garden hose and a bucket — handy, lighting one firework at a time and never giving fireworks to small children. A dud firework should not be relit; instead wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water. 

“Whenever you’re using a firework or anything else that produces sparks and heat, there’s always going to be a danger,” Latipow said.

While the three cities allow the use of safe and sane fireworks, the rules are different. In Santa Maria, the fireworks can be used anytime during the sales period, which ends at noon July 5.

However, Lompoc only allows safe and sane fireworks use between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July. Sales end at 9 p.m. that day.

Despite the fire in the hills above Lompoc, customers were still buying Monday night from a booth near the Haggen grocery store.

Members of the First Apostolic Church of Lompoc in the Vons parking lot reported terrific sales as of Tuesday.

“The goal was to beat the prior day’s total and we definitely did that yesterday,” Heidi Clark said Tuesday while sitting near the church’s booth in the prime location. 

In addition to fireworks, the church set up another table selling other patriotic items under a nearby canopy, creating a colorful sight aimed at attracting drivers of vehicles traveling on H Street.

Root beer floats also will be added to the inventory so the underage kids can help in the fundraising, Clark said.

The church is a returning seller, one of a few to apply.

“I think people got discouraged. It is a lot of work,” Clark added.

Fireworks help the church pay for assorted causes such as supporting overseas missions. 

“This year we’re really hoping for a great turnout on the Fourth since the community show is that day,” Clark added.

While safe and sane fireworks are allowed, Lompoc and Santa Maria are plagued by illegal fireworks in the weeks around the Fourth of July, with unauthorized use leading to colorful displays and loud booms.

“It’s out of control,” Latipow said. “Myself and my colleagues agree it’s out of control. Until we can get control of the shipments at our borders, and not just our land border but our ports, we will continue to have this problem.”

He added that firefighting leaders appeal annually to people not to risk purchasing or discharging illegal fireworks.

“You have a certain level of risk with the ‘safe and sane.’ They’ve been regulated to a point to minimize the risk, but when you go with the illegal ones — the ones that explode, the ones that shoot in the air — that risk is out of sight.”

Santa Maria has set up a hotline at 805.925.0951 x3473 to report illegal fireworks sales, possession and use. Callers can remain anonymous. The line is checked weekdays. Anyone who sees something that could endanger a life should call 9-1-1.

Knowing that fireworks can cause dogs to run away in fear, Santa Barbara County Animal Services will open its shelters in the Santa Barbara area, Lompoc and Santa Maria Valley from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 5 for redemption of pets only.

Fourth of July is a day more pets go missing than any other day of the year, Animals Services representatives said on the agency’s Facebook page. 

Instead of taking dogs to fireworks shows, they should be kept at home with the windows closed and shades drawn. Turn on some music to help hide the sounds of the fireworks.

Some residents with extremely anxious dogs have to get vet-issued sedatives to help their pets survive the season.

County Fire Department officials are urging people to enjoy public displays of fireworks planned by local communities. 

“People just really need to leave the fireworks to the professionals," Zaniboni said. "It's really dangerous. They can cause injuries. They can cause fires. We're in an area that is so prone to fire after four years of drought, it's really scary to think about using fireworks."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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