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VFD: Fires from illegal fireworks doubled this year, killing 1

VFD: Fires from illegal fireworks doubled this year, killing 1

Visalia issued record number of citations for illegal fireworks during deadly Fourth of July holiday that killed a man 

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Illegal fireworks continue to skyrocket in Visalia and, for the first time this year, to deadly levels. 

This past Fourth of July marked the first fatality due to illegal fireworks in recent memory. 

At about 9:30 p.m. that night, the Visalia Fire Department (VFD) responded to a tree fire in the 1108 N. Stover. The fire was caused by an illegal firework and quickly spread to the home, killing 86-year-old Roman Fierro and more than a dozen dogs. 

Investigators with VFD, Tulare City Fire Department and Visalia Police Department identified 22-year-old Armando Camacho as having ignited the fireworks that led to the fire. Camacho was arrested four days later at his home on the same block as Fierro. In addition to fines for illegal fireworks, Camacho has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and arson resulting in great bodily injury/death. 

The fire that killed Fierro and his dogs was one of 14 fires caused by illegal fireworks in the nights leading up to the July 4th holiday, double the average for the previous three years. In 2016 and 2018, fires caused injuries but no deaths.

In all, VFD issued 88 citations for illegal fireworks and confiscated more than 150 pounds of fireworks. Most of those fines were for $1,000 but a handful were $3,000 fines for second or third offenses, some just minutes apart. Fire Marshal Corbin Reed said VFD issues more than four times the number of citations issued in Tulare, Porterville, Tulare, Hanford, Fresno and Clovis. 

Illegal fireworks seemed to peak during a year when there were more options for legal fireworks, two fireworks shows within the community and when the fire department did more public outreach than ever before. Reed said city administration, police and fire departments all saturated their social media with posts about illegal fireworks and the fines associated with them. Fourteen-foot banners in red and black hung from fire stations at Walnut Avenue and Atwood Court as well as Ferguson Drive and Dinuba Boulevard boasted a $1,000 fine for illegal fireworks and reminded residents that the city had a zero tolerance rule for them. The city’s website provided information on how to determine if a firework is legal, how to find one of the 25 booths where local nonprofits sold safe and sane fireworks and general safety tips for using and lighting legal fireworks. 

“Citations have gone up every year we have had a fireworks show,” Vice Mayor Steven Nelsen said.

While citations were at an all-time high, Reed did point out that on July 3, when both the Visalia Raw-hide and Visalia Country Club held fireworks shows, citations were the lowest of any night from June 29 to July 4. 

Mayor Bob Link pointed out that because fireworks booths began sales on June 29, many people light fireworks every day leading up to Independence Day festivities. Link said when he sold fireworks for a local nonprofit, the same kids would buy fireworks four days in a row. Reed said limiting the number of days to sell fireworks would not necessarily help because booths selling fireworks in the county have different rules. The city ordinance currently allows fireworks to be sold between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. from June 29 through July 4. Reed said booths outside the city limits follow California state law which allows for the sale of legal fireworks from noon on June 28 through noon on July 6.

Councilmember Greg Collins suggested limiting all fireworks to 7 p.m. to midnight. “I think the noise is significant and the community doesn’t need to become a warzone,” Collins said.

Reed replied, “My staff would be stopping at every house where kids with sparklers and it would be a huge burden on this detail.”

Reed said one option the council could consider is giving the reporting party a percentage of fines col-lected for illegal fireworks. He said San Luis Obispo gives neighbors a portion of the proceeds of fire-work fines if they report seeing illegal fireworks in their neighborhood. Catching illegal fireworks still remains very difficult. Reed said VFD patrols were conducted from July 2-5. The number of patrols var-ied each night depending on the projected calls for service and staffing levels. 

“We continue to have a large amount of illegal fireworks and other calls that flood into dispatch and the online reporting during the 4th of July Holiday,” Reed said. “Fires caused by illegal fireworks went up 0.5% this year and continue to be a nuisance and threat to our citizens.”

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