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County fireworks ban shot down

April 7, 2011

Local officials decided Tuesday that Inyo County would not ban fireworks in communities without community fire districts. The Board of Supervisors did say it was interested in exploring options for creating heavier penalties for those who bring illegal fireworks into the county. Photo by Mike Gervais

Inyo leaders rejected a suggestion Tuesday to implement heightened regulations on fireworks in the county.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney brought a request to the board in hopes of banning the use of fireworks in areas of the county that do not have fire protection districts. The use of fireworks within fire protection districts would have been allowed at the discretion of local fire chiefs.
While the three other supervisors in attendance (Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes was absent) said they recognize the hazard fireworks bring to the High Sierra each year, they were not willing to strip freedoms from residents to punish the careless few who cause fireworks-related fires.
Several local community members were in attendance to discuss their concerns about the proposed regulations, as well as Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine, who went on record as saying he hated fireworks.
Seguine said he supported Fortney’s proposal, and assured residents that, despite his personal feelings towards the celebratory incendiaries, he would not impose a total ban of fireworks in his fire district.
Other residents expressed concerns about fundraising fireworks sales that are conducted each year by dozens of community groups, including Bishop Little League and local churches.
“I know that fireworks are near and dear to everyone’s hearts,” Fortney said. “I don’t want to ban sales or the use of fireworks. I want to create a fine that will sting a little bit more” when people use fireworks irresponsibly or illegally.
Donald Kunze, a Bishop volunteer firefighter and local pyrotechnics expert who helps set up the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department July 4 fireworks show at the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport, said he understands Fortney’s reasoning and concern, but said that fires started by fireworks are rarely caused by legal, safe and sane fireworks.
“Illegal fireworks are our problem. Illegal fireworks are what we have to stop,” Kunze said, adding that banning fireworks in areas of the county without community fire districts would not stop scofflaws from setting off fireworks.
Kunze also said he was not comfortable with the county handing the authority to regulate where and when fireworks can be used legally to the fire chiefs.
“I don’t have anything against the fire chiefs. I think Ray (Seguine) is a great chief for Bishop, but I don’t vote for fire chiefs, I vote for you. And we’re talking about taking people’s rights away.”
Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Susan Cash said she agreed with Kunze’s statement.
“Locally elected officials should be able to provide the laws that guide us,” Cash said. “We are the elected officials. This is our job.”
Cash compared the proposed ordinance to a ban on firearms, saying that she could not support “laws that restrict the ability of honest citizens to do what is legal.”
Louis Lenny, a representative of TNT Fireworks, which sells 95 percent of the legal fireworks in Inyo County, asked the board to consider adopting a resolution in relation to Senate Bill 839, which would allow local law enforcement to write citations to anyone caught in possession of illegal fireworks, similar to parking tickets. Under S.B. 839, revenue from the citation would be divided between the state fire marshal and the agency that issued the citation.
Currently fines for fireworks are paid directly to the state fire marshal’s office, and the agency that confiscates the illegal pyrotechnics is responsible for destroying them.
Lenny said that, if the board adopts such a resolution, the county would be able to see some revenue from fireworks fines, and the state fire marshal would be responsible for destroying the confiscated materials.
Basically, he said, the county would save money on destroying the fireworks, while gaining revenue from fines.
The board agreed to come back to that discussion at a later date.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius, who lives in Round Valley, an area without a community fire district, said she does not personally like fireworks, but “that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t enjoy them. This would be a ban for some people.”
The board may meet in the future to discuss other methods of deterring residents from using illegal firework if a viable proposal is brought forward.

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