A fireworks booth adjacent to the Pacifica Moose Lounge includes an ominous warning for revelers who plan on celebrating outside of the law. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Explosive consequences in store for those who use illegal fireworks on Fourth of July

Illegal fireworks soaring up to 150 feet in the air and bursting into multicolored pyrotechnic stars are a common sight in Pacifica each Fourth of July.

But the Pacifica Police Department is stepping up enforcement in the days leading up to the holiday this year, and detonating illegal fireworks could lead to explosive consequences for those who get caught, with $1,000 fines and jail time being among the possible punishments.

Pacifica and San Bruno have become destinations for Bay Area residents who want to buy and use fireworks because they’re the only two cities in San Mateo County that permit the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks.

Like Pacifica police, San Bruno authorities have promised rigorous enforcement of the laws governing when and where legal fireworks can be used, and a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal fireworks.

Revelers in San Bruno may set off fireworks from noon to 10:00 p.m. June 28 through July 3, and from noon to midnight July 4.

Partiers in Pacifica are allowed to light fireworks from noon to 11:00 p.m. June 28, and from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. June 29 through July 5.

San Bruno places strict limits on where fireworks can be discharged, banning them from almost all public places. San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said residents are free to light legal fireworks on their own property, which can include driveways, but setting off fireworks on public streets is prohibited, as is using the products in public parks or vacant lots.

Pacifica places less restrictions on where fireworks can be used. Police Capt. Joseph Spanheimer said the tradition in many neighborhoods of setting up legal fireworks displays on sidewalks and streets does not generally run afoul of local laws.

Fireworks are banned from every beach except Linda Mar, however. And because that beach is a habitat for the sensitive snowy plover bird species, parts of the beach are off-limits.

All legal fireworks come in packages bearing the California State Fire Marshall seal, Spanheimer said, and illegal fireworks can sometimes be identified by how they function.

“If it explodes or flies, it’s illegal,” the police captain noted, adding it’s a felony to possess the devices commonly referred to as “M-80’s.”

San Bruno and Pacifica will both have extra cops on hand from neighboring police agencies for the Fourth of July, and Spanheimer said Pacifica’s enforcement would include undercover patrols.

Jackson said San Bruno has seen a few minor injuries and property damage due to fireworks over the years, but rigorous enforcement has kept problems to a minimum. Pacifica has been similarly free of serious incidents, according to Spanheimer.

Firework sales are a boon to nonprofit, civic and social organizations in both towns. In both cases, two companies — TNT Fireworks and Phantom Fireworks — set up fireworks booths and facilitate sales for local organizations, with each booth typically representing a different community group.

Pacifica Assistant City Manager Lorenzo Hines said he couldn’t comment on previous years’ revenues, but provided a list of local groups benefiting from firework sales this year. Those include the local American Legion post, the Moose Lodge, and numerous youth sports teams.

Jackson said similar organizations in San Bruno are expected to gross about $500,000 during the coming week of fireworks sales. And, the city manager noted, the city’s increased police presence will be paid for with a portion of those funds.

“The city recovers the cost of education and enforcement, which is about $65,000,” Jackson said. “We are not using taxpayer resources.”

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