(Watsonville Fire Chief Pablo Barreto shows a sampling of illegal fireworks Wednesday that were purchased outside the county. Safe and sane fireworks will go on sale Sunday at stands like this one on South Green Valley Road in preparation for Fourth of July celebrations. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — Anyone who sets off illegal fireworks for the Fourth of July could find themselves in court.
For the first time, Watsonville Police will be issuing criminal citations to those who light up illegal fireworks such as M-80s, bottle rockets, mortars and more.
Watsonville Police Sgt. Tony Figueroa said the department is taking a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal fireworks. In previous years, the department issued administrative citations, which was handled internally through the fire department.
But now, those who are hit with a criminal citation must go through the court process, Figueroa said, likening it to a misdemeanor crime.
“It will hold a lot more weight to the violators,” he said.
The citation will be up to the discretion of the officer, depending on how many illegal fireworks are in the violator’s possession or where they are setting them off, among other things, according to Figueroa. The fine can be anywhere from $250 to $1,000.
From now through the Fourth of July, police have ramped up patrols throughout the city, on the lookout for illegal fireworks.
To celebrate the Fourth of July, law enforcement officials are encouraging revelers to purchase “safe and sane” fireworks, which are those that do not leave the ground or explode. Safe and sane fireworks are available for purchase at booths throughout Watsonville, which are used as a way to fundraising for various nonprofit organizations. These types of fireworks are only permitted in city limits.
“Hopefully we can all have a safe and sane Fourth of July,” Figueroa said. “Even when you have fireworks that are legal, they still need to be set off in a safe manner.”
Watsonville Fire Chief Pablo Barreto warned that misuse of fireworks can cause not only serious property damage, but life-threatening injuries.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, hospital emergency rooms across the United States saw 10,500 people for fireworks-related injuries in 2014. Fireworks were also estimated to cause 15,600 fires throughout the country in 2013.
Over the past few weeks in Watsonville, firefighters responded to about 10 wildland fires, all suspected to have been sparked by fireworks, according to Barreto.
“Our priority is public safety,” he said. “We really encourage people to use safe and sane.”
Firefighters will also be out in force on the Fourth of July, reporting illegal firework activity to the police while educating the public on proper use of legal fireworks.
According to Barreto, seven percent of the proceeds from the fireworks booths goes to the city, which is used to pay for police and fire services.
Phantom Fireworks and TNT Fireworks also help pay for advertising and signage around town warning residents of the dangers of illegal fireworks.
Law enforcement agencies from across the county are also stepping up their patrols on the Fourth of July.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Cleveland said the SCSO will have more than 60 deputies and sergeants patrolling the county.
Fireworks of any kind, in addition to “safe and sane,” are not allowed in the unincorporated areas of the county, including Corralitos, Freedom, Aptos and county beaches. Alcoholic beverages are also not allowed on beaches or outside commercial establishments or residences.
Those caught in possession of fireworks, consuming alcohol in public, carrying open containers of alcohol, or causing excessive noise will be fined $1,000.
If you see what looks like a homemade explosive, stay back and call 911, deputies advise.
“The Sheriff’s Office encourages everyone to enjoy the holiday safely and responsibly,” Cleveland said. “Do not let a costly citation ruin your holiday.”
The County of Santa Cruz has also created a website with tips to enjoy the holiday safely at santacruzcounty.us/fireworks.aspx.
As it has in years past, the City of Santa Cruz will be a triple fine zone from midnight on Wednesday to 3 a.m. Thursday.
The fines for violations such as illegal discharge of fireworks, littering and public consumption of alcohol will be tripled.
All fireworks, including “safe and sane,” are illegal in Santa Cruz.
For health and safety emergencies, call 911. For non-emergencies, call 471-1151.
• Demolay, 1983 Freedom Blvd.
• Freedom Rotary Club, 1966 Main St.
• Moreland Notre Dame Men’s Club, 634 Main St.
• Pajaro Lodge #100, 1075 Main St.
• Pajaro Valley Children’s Center, 1459 Freedom Blvd.
• Pajaro Valley Girl’s Softball, 444 Airport Blvd.
• Pajaro Valley High School Athletics, 601 Main St.
• Pajaro Valley Wrestling, 1923 Freedom Blvd.
• Pajaro Valley Youth Soccer, 1125 South Green Valley Road
• Santa Cruz County Tritons, 1424 Freedom Blvd.
• United Pentecostal Church, 1820 Freedom Blvd.
• Victory Outreach Watsonville 1, 707 Freedom Blvd.
• Victory Outreach Watsonville 2, 1702 Freedom Blvd.
• Watsonville Buddhist Temple, 423 Bridge St.
• Watsonville Charter School of the Arts, 2010 Freedom Blvd.
• Watsonville H.S. ASB Soccer, 570 Main St.
• Watsonville H.S. Football/Cheer, 1116 Main St.
• Watsonville High School Wrestling, 377 Hushbeck Ave.
• Watsonville High Track Club, 20 Ohlone Parkway
• Watsonville National Little League, 1051 South Green Valley Road
• Watsonville Police Activities League, 355 South Green Valley Road
• Watsonville Tae Kwon Do Parent Booster Club, 978 East Lake Ave.
• Watsonville Youth Training Center, 601 East Lake Ave.