By Capt. Scott Taylor and 1st Lt. Carman Leone, 30th Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate
/ Published June 29, 2011
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Millions of Americans every year celebrate the 4th of July by exploding fireworks. Unfortunately, many people die or are injured in the process. Many others get in legal trouble by local police for violating city or county laws that prohibit possession or use of fireworks. Before you decide to buy fireworks for the 4th of July celebration this year, consider state, county and local laws that may cost you several thousand dollars in fines if you are caught violating the law.
In the State of California, it is unlawful for any person to sell possess, or discharge any type of firework within the state unless the State Fire Marshall has classified and registered the firework. The only fireworks allowed in California are those classified as "safe and sane." All others are considered "dangerous fireworks." Generally speaking, "Safe and Sane" means fireworks that do not fly or explode, such as fountains, sparklers, wheels, smoke and snake items. "Safe and Sane" fireworks sold in California will have the State Fire Marshall Seal displayed on the outside packaging of the fireworks. Any fireworks brought in from out of state that are not properly labeled with the State Marshal's seal are illegal fireworks. All pyrotechnic devices, including emergency flares, are included in the fire code, so before you go shooting anything in celebration, check with local authorities for clarification. There are many areas in the state where the possession of fireworks is prohibited, so if you legally purchase fireworks in a city, merely leaving the city with those fireworks could subject you to criminal penalties.
In addition, should your use of fireworks, whether in a legal or illegal manner, result in personal injury or property damage you could be sued in civil court. Depending on the extent of the injury or property damage, such a lawsuit could result in you paying a significant amount - out of your own pocket.
In fact, Santa Maria is the one of the only local cities that authorizes limited purchase and use of approved "Safe and Sane" fireworks within the city limits. You cannot take fireworks purchased in Santa Maria outside city limits. You must be at least 16 years of age to purchase "Safe and Sane" fireworks in Santa Maria. Fireworks sold in booths will not be propelled, rocket driven, or anything that creates a loud bang or explosion. Anyone using illegal fireworks, which include "dangerous fireworks" or fireworks without the State Marshall Seal, is subject to up to a $1000 administrative fine by the city as well as up to a year imprisonment or probation.
Almost all other surrounding cities, including Vandenberg AFB, prohibit use and possession of fireworks. Here on base, we are now in the fire season, which means there is a high risk of fire. Setting off fireworks on base could endanger lives, property, and disrupt the mission. Simply put, the risk of setting a fire, injuring others on base, or being charged with possession of fireworks is not worth the spectacle of celebration. Anyone witnessing the use of fireworks on base should call security forces.
The City of Lompoc prohibits the possession, storage, sale, use, or handling of fireworks. Anyone who violates the prohibition is subject to a fine up to $1000 or a year imprisonment, or both.
Solvang only allows fireworks where a permit has been granted by the city manager, who will only grant a permit for established civic celebrations to individuals with the necessary skill and experience to safely discharge the fireworks. Buellton similarly prohibits discharging fireworks without the express approval of the city council. Santa Ynez is governed by county ordinance of Santa Barbara County, which prohibits fireworks in all unincorporated areas.
"Safe and Sane" fireworks are permitted in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Oceano. Grover Beach limits use to individuals over 18 years of age unless directly supervised by a person 21 years of age or older. Penalties for illegal use range from up to a $1000 fine and anywhere from 180 to 365 days imprisonment. Remember just because you bought "Safe and Sane" fireworks in one city does not mean you are authorized to use them in another city.
Pismo Beach and Avila Beach both prohibit the possession, use, and handling of fireworks, whether they are "Safe and Sane" or "dangerous fireworks." All fireworks use, sale, or possession in Pismo Beach or Avila Beach is prohibited, and violations will subject a user to up to a $2,000 fine.
Anyone wishing to enjoy a safe fireworks display without worrying about fines and penalties should consider enjoying one of the many public fireworks displays this weekend. Pismo Beach is planning a free public show from the end of their 1,200 foot pier. Lompoc will hold a display at Huyck Stadium. Solvang will hold a fireworks show at Mission Santa Ines. Santa Maria will hold its fireworks display at the Santa Maria Fairpark. Contact each individual municipality for more details on the public fireworks show in your area.
As we celebrate the holiday weekend, keep in mind that those around us sometimes celebrate to excess. If you have questions, check with local authorities before using any fireworks this weekend to avoid fines and imprisonment. Remember to avoid drinking to excess, and never drink and drive. There is no reason you cannot have a fun weekend, just do so in a "Safe and Sane" manner.