Council discusses safety of fireworks within city limits

A fireworks booth sits near Lorenzo’s Supermarket off Grant Road in Winters, June 25, 2018. (Taylor Buley/Winters Express)

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The Winters City Council discussed the current use of the fireworks booths as well as the potential safety concerns around fireworks in general at its May 16 meeting.

As summarized in the city staff report, “Little League and the Winters’ municipal swim team coordinated separate fireworks booths to sell legal fireworks prior to the 4th of July. The booths were run separately until the city began contracting with a third party to coordinate the summer swim team and provide recreational swim lessons. For the last two years, Little League has agreed to coordinate one double booth and split the proceeds with the city. Swim parents are requested to help volunteer at the booth.” 

Fireworks provided the city with $17,000 last year, which was placed in the Swim Team fund that sits at around $90,000.

City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa reiterated that the fireworks sold at the booths are inspected by the fire department and are of the legal “safe and sane” variety, and on the topic of illegal fireworks stated the city has taken steps in previous years to discourage their usage, including the creation and enforcement of administrative citations for using illegal fireworks inside the city, as well as a platform for reporting neighbors for using illegal fireworks.

Since the citations are administrative rather than criminal, the city is more flexible in allowing fire and building inspectors to write citations as well as police. Last year five citations were given out, and the revenue from those citations goes to the fund for the city’s firework show. 

Council member Jesse Loren asked Trepa about the safest way to use legal fireworks. Trepa advised that legal fireworks “should be used in an area that is clear, free from any weeds or brush or any flammable material, there always should be a bucket of water nearby” as well as noting that “a lot of people like to use their safe and sane fireworks in the streets, which we discourage people from doing because now you’re interfering with traffic flows, they do leave a lot of debris behind” and people, who would like to use safe and sane fireworks should do so on their property.

Loren also asked if having fireworks, even safe and sane legal ones and those in the fireworks show, is a danger to the area that should be addressed, noting some difficulties people have with pets and fireworks.

Mayor Pro Tempore Albert Vallecillo reiterated Loren’s concern, noting that the Winters area is hot and fire-prone and that fires can quickly become “catastrophic” — which fireworks can increase the likelihood of. But Vallecillo also said he wasn’t proposing the organizations funded by them lose their revenue, instead, the city should look into finding other ways to fund them. 

Council member Carol Scianna provided similar concerns regarding safety and the desire to continue funding these programs while noting that illegal fireworks are the biggest safety concern, which she hopes the citations can help mitigate.

“In our interface with the creek area,” Scianna continued. “It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Regarding the fire safety of fireworks, Trepa noted that safe and sane fireworks are “authorized by the state fire marshal” but that communities in California can and do prohibit them for fire safety reasons nonetheless, and thus the decision to do so would be up to the council. 

Council member Richard Casavecchia and Mayor Bill Biasi stated they felt that the issue of firework booth sales and the general fire safety concern of fireworks are separate issues and that neither was in favor of banning the sale of safe and sane fireworks.

Biasi continued that “as far as safe and sane fireworks, I’m not in favor of banning them in Winters, policy-wise by the council.” He also said that the organizations receiving funding from fireworks wanted to find other funding that could be up to them, as well as opening that a prohibition on legal fireworks in the city would be difficult to enforce and that illegal fireworks are the biggest concerns for fire safety and pets.  

Public comments included little league parent Sarah Shirley whose strongly written comment stated her opposition to pulling the funding source or banning safe and sane fireworks, as well as an in-person comment from Kathy Cowan, who works the firework booths, who acknowledged that as a pet owner, it can be “terrible” for them, but that banning legal fireworks “would be a real mistake.”

Biasi reiterated that the safe and sane fireworks will continue for this year.

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