`SAFE, SANE' SALES?
FILLMORE - Ash from the massive Ojai blaze showered Fillmore just two weeks ago, but the fire danger this year won't stop the ``Last Best Small Town in California'' from allowing its annual fireworks sales.
Even with dire warnings that brush in the Southland has dried into kindling and the fire danger is at a historic high, churches, civic clubs and high school booster groups will sell Fourth of July boxes of fireworks to anyone old enough to drive.
After all, those nonprofit groups in this working class town netted a total of about $450,000 last year on ``safe and sane'' fireworks sales, city spokesman Steve McClary said.
``It's been a tradition in Fillmore for many, many, many years,'' McClary said. ``It's well supported by the community and we don't hear our community coming and telling the City Council to stop sale of fireworks. We hear from community groups how important it is to them.''
The problem lies in the rest of Ventura County and in the nearby Santa Clarita Valley, where fireworks are illegal and where a dry winter and hot spring have created prime fire conditions. Simple possession of fireworks is an infraction. Using them is a misdemeanor, and can be a felony.
``Those cities allow them, but the people who sell them do not make an effort to tell people they're not legal outside those cities,'' said Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Glen Mutch. ``We try our best to let people know. We put up signs, but they get torn down.''
With Fillmore just 20 miles away, and Palmdale, where fireworks also are legal, within an hour's drive, Santa Clarita residents are set for Independence Day displays.
``We get almost a steady stream of cars from Santa Clarita to buy fireworks,'' Fillmore Fire Chief Pat Askren said.
The city will make a concession to the communities surrounding Fillmore that ban the use of fireworks for fear of injury or fire. Posters were being printed on Friday warning buyers that most communities in Southern California don't allow fireworks, and the city is considering a request from the Ventura County Fire Department to require that fliers be included with purchases explaining just that.
The issue is a touchy one, said Sandi Wells, public information officer for the Ventura County Fire Department. Little Leagues and youth clubs depend on the income from fireworks, but firefighters are weary already and the traditional fire season has yet to begin.
``It's emotional,'' Wells said. ``We're saying that even if they're called safe and sane, they can burn up to 1,800 degrees. They're dangerous to people and the wild lands. But the city has the right to make its own choice.''
In Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County firefighters not only will confiscate fireworks off neighborhood streets and cite people who have them, they will monitor weather conditions and cancel sanctioned professional displays if winds kick up, Mutch said.
``We will confiscate them,'' he said. ``We'll especially concentrate on brush areas.''
Safe and sane or not, fireworks can start fires and injure people, Mutch said.
``In addition to the fire problem, they hurt people,'' he said. ``We have injuries every year. Little kids hold them in their hands, they hurt their eyes, all kinds of injuries. And even a sparkler, if you throw them, a spark lands on a shake roof, even without wind, your roof is gone.''
This year's fire danger was realized earlier this month when sparks from a welder's torch ignited a brush fire that raged through a Saugus canyon, injuring four firefighters, destroying nine homes and several other buildings and forcing thousands to be evacuated. The Ojai fire was controlled Friday, having charred 21,278 acres of wilderness and injuring eight firefighters.
``It could happen again, no question,'' Mutch said. ``It just takes a spark, some wind.''
Fillmore officials say it's up to adults to make sure fireworks are used safely.
``I wonder if anyone's considered banning welding because it's such a bad fire season,'' McClary joked. ``The point is people have to be responsible, this year even more cautious.''
Askren thinks Fillmore doesn't get a fair shake in the outside world.
``There are 229 communities in California that allow nonprofit organizations to sell fireworks,'' he said. ``Fillmore seems to take the heat because we're the only one in a totally dry county.
``If you go to nearly any other state, they sell all kinds of fireworks - bombs, Roman candles, skyrockets,'' he said. ``Ours are certified safe and sane by the state fire marshal.''
Still, he's well aware of the fire danger.
``Yes, it is dry this year and we pray to God our fireworks are not involved in the cause of any major fires or any injuries to anyone,'' he said. ``That's all I can hope and pray until the state of California decrees safe and sane fireworks illegal.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 17, 2002|
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