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POLICE TO TRACK DOWN ILLEGAL FIREWORKS OFFENDERS FACE HEAVY FINANCIAL PENALTIES.

Byline: ERIC LEACH Staff Writer

SIMI VALLEY -- As local officials prepare for the biggest Fourth of July fireworks show in Simi Valley history, police and firefighters are taking a hard line on illegal fireworks throughout Ventura County.

``We aren't giving out numbers, but there will be a significant increase in personnel patrolling and responding to complaints,'' said Sgt. Stephanie Shannon, a spokeswoman for the Simi Valley Police Department. ``With our recent fires, we have a genuine concern about our hillsides.''

While residents might be busted for illegal use of fireworks in their neighborhoods, city officials are joining with the Rotary Club of Simi Valley to plan a spectacular show that is both legal and free at Rancho Santa Susana Park on July 4.

``We are spending more than twice as much money as we have in the past,'' said Paul Williams, chairman of the Fourth of July event committee for the Rotary Club, which has been sponsoring July 4 shows in the area for more than 30 years. ``It will be the biggest show we have ever had in Simi, the biggest show we have ever launched.''

In the past, residents have had to pay to attend the city's fireworks show at Simi Valley High School. But the school is replacing its main field with artificial turf, so this year's show has been moved to the nearby park.

``If this works out, we will probably want to stay here at the park,'' Williams said, adding that most of the fees from sponsors will go to local charities.

Although the fireworks show is scheduled to begin at dusk around 9 p.m., special Fourth of July activities will be held in the park starting at 1 p.m., with five bands, dancing and a kids zone with slides, obstacle courses and other games.

Shannon and other public safety officials said the safety of children is a particular concern when it comes to illegal fireworks.

``Some parents don't see the danger in it, and then they have a tragic accident with their children,'' she said.

Capt. Barry Parker, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department, said children don't realize what playing with fireworks can do to them.

``The emergency rooms every year end up with people burned or injured,'' he said. ``Children between the ages of 5 and 14 typically are injured the most. The parents have no idea where the fireworks are manufactured. A lot of them come from Third World countries.''

Parker said residents could be fined from $300 to $1,000 for use or possession of fireworks, which are illegal everywhere in the county except the city of Fillmore, where fireworks classified as ``safe and sane'' will go on sale Wednesday.

``We will have arson investigators, fire prevention officers and firefighters patrolling, and I guarantee some people will be fined,'' he said. ``If we find out that a fire started because of you using fireworks, you will be financially bound to pay the cost of the firefighting resources. If children start a fire, then their parents will be financially responsible.''

Safe and sane fireworks include pinwheels and cones that shoot showers of sparks into the air less than eight feet. Any fireworks that cause explosions or sparks that rise more than eight feet are illegal, even in Fillmore.

Safe and sane fireworks can be discharged in Fillmore only between Wednesday and July 5, and the city usually receives more than $10,000 in sales tax revenues through fireworks vendors operating during that period, the Ventura County Grand Jury reported last year.

Problems related to fireworks in Fillmore, including complaints from residents and brushfires, have been attributed to illegal fireworks, rather than the type sold by the legal Fillmore vendors, the Grand Jury said.

In the report, Simi Valley received more fireworks complaints than any other city in Ventura County in 2004. The complaints in Simi Valley and elsewhere resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in extra enforcement costs each year.

In Oxnard, where a Fireworks by the Sea show is planned at Channel Islands Harbor on July 4, the Police Department is also warning residents and visitors that all fireworks other than the professional show are illegal and fines can be as high as $1,000 for each offense.

Last year, Oxnard had 214 complaints about illegal fireworks and issued 54 civil citations for a total of $43,200 fines, police said.

eric.leach(at)dailynews.com

(805) 583-7602

IF YOU GO

The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District will host a free show at Santa Susana Park, 5005 Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley, and parking will be available at the nearby Amtrak station and at Simi Valley High School. Information is available at www.simivalleyrotary.org.

At Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, a show by the sea can be viewed from all points of the harbor. Information is available at the Channel Islands Harbor Visitors Center at (805) 985-4852 or at www.channelislandsharbor.org.

Fireworks start at dusk around 9 p.m., and some other professional shows in the county include one in Thousand Oaks on the hilltop behind The Oaks shopping center on Hillcrest Drive between Lynn and Wilbur roads, and in Moorpark at Arroyo Vista Community Park at Tierra Rejada Road and Countrywood Drive.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 25, 2006
Words:890
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