Fun and fear in one box

Fun and fear in one box

Fireworks go on sale at 16 booths Friday and the fire department
is gearing up for the 4th
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Independence Day must be near: the fireworks sales booths that mean dollars for local non-profits are up and waiting, and the fire marshal is already on the lookout for illegal fireworks that threaten to damage homes this Fourth of July.

Teams of firefighters and police confiscated 5,105 illegal fireworks last year and will be patrolling the streets again this Fourth, citing or arresting people with fireworks that move about on the ground, explode or shoot in the air – not the “safe and sane” variety sold by non-profit groups at 16 booths around the city.

“It’s really easy because if they buy it in Gilroy at one of these booths, it’s a legal firework. And if they didn’t buy it at a booth in Gilroy … they need to question it,” said Jackie Bretschneider, city fire marshal. “If you ordered it off the Internet or bought it out of the back of a truck, it’s probably not legal.”

Even legal fireworks sold in other cities may not meet Gilroy “safe and sane” standards. Bottle rockets, Roman candles and cherry bombs are all examples of illegal fireworks. Gilroy is the only city in Santa Clara County that does not have a total fireworks ban.

As part of the fire marshal’s public education campaign, this year Bretschneider mailed a flyer to all city residences – all 17,812 addresses – reminding people to purchase only at permitted stands and to report people using or selling illegal fireworks to police.

“The illegal fireworks are very dangerous,” Bretschneider said.

They were responsible for one apartment building fire last July 4, which caused $10,000 damage. Two years ago, firefighters battled nine vegetation and structure fires that caused $425,000 worth of damage. People caught using illegal fireworks will have the items confiscated and may be cited, placed under felony arrest or charged administrative fines ranging from $100 to $500.

There also are restrictions on legal fireworks, most notably where in the city they can be used. Even safe and sane fireworks are not allowed in hazardous fire areas in West Gilroy, including lands west of Santa Teresa Boulevard along Hecker Pass Highway, off Mantelli Drive, west of Rancho Hills Drive and in Eagle Ridge. Signs are being posted in the restricted areas to remind residents of fire danger.

“That line doesn’t mean that at each specific location it would be unsafe, but we have to draw a line from an enforcement perspective, because at night, when most of this firework activity occurs, it’s very hard to distinguish between legal or illegal,” Bretschneider said.

A flyer will be handed out with all sales made at the fireworks booths that specifies where legal fireworks cannot be used, such as the County Estates subdivision, the Eagle Ridge subdivision, The Forest subdivision, Rancho Real Drive south from Welburn Avenue, Carriage Hills subdivision that includes streets and cul-de-sacs west of Rancho Hills Drive and other lands on Hecker Pass or west of Santa Teresa south of Hecker Pass. Legal fireworks may only be used between July 1 and July 4. After that, people will be subject to fines or arrest.

The 16 fireworks booths in the city – many on First Street, with others on Tenth, Chestnut and Monterey streets and San Ysidro Avenue – have been standing empty since the beginning of this week. The fireworks vendors that provide the booths have placed highly visible warnings about the city’s zero-tolerance approach to illegal pyrotechnics.

Non-profit groups will begin selling safe and sane fireworks Friday morning through Monday. Many of the groups depend on the fireworks sales to make up the bulk of their annual funds, some earning more than $21,000 over the weekend.

Victory Outreach, which will have a booth in front of Del Sol Market, 435 First St., depends on funds raised by selling fireworks to provide gang and drug outreach to Gilroy youngsters throughout the year, said Jesse Jimenez, public relations officer.

“It’s very valuable. It meets (our) financial need,” Jimenez said. “Because we’re a non-profit, we’re not funded by the state. We do apply for grants, but it’s very rare that we get one.”

He estimated that the booth brings in between $6,000 to $8,000 for the group each year.

“We do outreach events: summer rallies, residential rallies, we do outreach concerts, sometimes we do plays,” Jimenez said.

City code does not allow more than 16 booths, so the same non-profit groups sell fireworks each year.

Added to the price of a box of fireworks is an 8-percent charge that helps fund the city’s public education campaign and enforcement on July 4. The city is charging vendors more than $30,000 to fight illegal fireworks used Monday night – and cover the cost of mailing out the flyers to Gilroy residents – and the non-profits pass that cost on to customers.

To report illegal fireworks, contact Gilroy police at 846-0350.

Where to buy

Purchase legal fireworks and support the following organizations:

– Gavilan College Football Boosters: 1230 – 1260 First St.

– Victory Outreach: 435 First St.

– Christian School Parents Club: 8220 Monterey St.

– Karazenpo Karate Association: 705 First St.

– GHS Quarterback Club: 401 E. 10th St.

– Apostolic Assembly Church: 7900 Arroyo Circle

– American Legion Las Animas Post 669: 211 First St.

– Gilroy Pop Warner Football: 6990 Chestnut St.

– Gilroy Youth Football Cheerleaders: Lot east of 162 W. 10th St.

– Gilroy Community Services Therapeutic Recreation: 777 First St.

– Stick & Move Amateur Boxing: N/W corner of First Street & Kelton Drive

– Gilroy Little League Ball Park Fund: 691 First St.

– El Camino Squad Club (CHP): 971 First St.

– Gilroy Police Officers Association: 8400 Church St.

– GHS Cheer Leaders Booster Club: 7940 Monterey St.

– Gilroy Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: 8850 San Ysidro Ave.

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