HANFORD — Both the cities of Hanford and Lemoore have recently adopted tougher illegal fireworks rules, but that didn’t stop everyone from using illegal fireworks.
Illegal fireworks, which typically fly into the air and explode, have caused several grass and structure fires in the past and were considered to be a growing problem locally.
Under the ordinance recently adopted by the Hanford City Council, property owners can be fined $1,000 if their tenants allow, participate in or launch illegal fireworks. The fine also applies to people possessing or selling illegal fireworks.
In addition, anybody using state-approved "safe and sane" fireworks outside of allowable times in Hanford — which is July 1 through July 4 — could be hit with the same fine.
Hanford Fire Chief Chris Ekk said there were at least 100 reports of illegal fireworks in the city, leading to over 10 citations in different areas on July 4.
Ekk said the department teamed up with the Hanford Police Department to form four teams to patrol throughout the city. Hanford Fire Battalion Chief Erik Brotemarkle said crews specifically for fireworks enforcement were out from 7 p.m. to midnight on the Fourth.
Ekk said the teams were out on the streets being proactive and using different methods to track down violators while taking leads from the calls they received. He said the department even used a drone in a few cases.
Ekk said the drone was “very effective” and gave a great view from up high with good video quality.
“It was able to pinpoint where the fireworks were coming from,” Ekk said, adding using the drone led to a couple citations.
The Lemoore City Council voted in September 2016 to adopt an ordinance that fined any tenant $1,000 who was caught using illegal fireworks. The rule allows the fine to be mailed out without prior warning to the responsible party.
Lemoore Police Commander Michael Kendall said the department cited three people for using illegal fireworks. He said it was difficult to track down where exactly the fireworks come from, so the department got a lot of information from outside sources like neighbors or other eye witnesses.
Kendall said officers responded to the general area of where a firework went off and then determined if there was any probable cause to cite the property owner. In each case, he said the department recovered different types of illegal fireworks and forwarded the information to the Kings County district attorney’s office for further prosecution.
Kendall said illegal fireworks use has always been a problem in the city, and he believes the ordinance did mean fewer illegal fireworks this year. It also helped that the holiday fell on a weekday.
Ekk said he also felt like there were fewer problems pertaining to illegal fireworks use, perhaps influenced by the new ordinance, but not everyone was completely deterred.
“There’s still so much illegal firework activity going on in the city,” Ekk said.
Ekk said there were three small fires on July 4 believed to be related to firework use. There was one grass fire, one bush fire and one fire involving a trailer that had tree trimmings on it. There was a small amount of damage to the trailer, but no significant damage in the other incidents, Ekk said. He said the extra staffing meant they got to fires quickly and were able to handle them before they grew.
Ekk said he appreciated the community’s effort in trying to lower the rate of illegal fireworks use by calling and providing leads.
“I hope that next year we can make a bigger impact,” Ekk said.
In general, Brotemarkle said excessive heat this summer has made the fire season a little more “volatile” than previous years. He said many Hanford firefighters have been assigned to units out of county to help with four different fires across the state.
The most common type of fires the department sees locally are grass fires caused by “light, flashy fuels,” like tall, dry grass or weeds that light quickly and spread the flame to surrounding areas, Brotemarkle said. He said fires like this, which caused a house on the 700 block of South Williams to become fully engulfed in flames early Sunday morning, are fast burning and hard to handle.
Brotemarkle said the Fire Prevention Division has been out since mid-April educating residents on weed abatement and identifying potential fire hazards. He said the best thing residents can do to prevent grass fires from turning into something potentially more dangerous is minimizing their weed and dry grass problems.
Ekk said if anyone notices a problem with dry weeds at a property that isn’t theirs, they can contact the fire department for help.