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The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is cracking down on illegal fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July and the 2021 fire season.
The board recently passed an ordinance that increases the fines for illegal fireworks to $1,000 per violation. The ordinance goes into effect 30 days after its passage, or June 17.
According to the county’s laws, all fireworks are illegal to have, sell or use in unincorporated areas of San Mateo County without a permit. Even fireworks labeled as “safe” — like sparklers, fountains, snakes or smoke balls — are illegal.
The new $1,000 fine for each offense is 10 times more than the previous fine, which was $100 for a first offense.
It’s the first time in 35 years that the county is changing its fireworks laws. The change comes amid complaints from residents about smoke, explosions and noise. Fireworks can also spark wildfires, which are more likely during the dry conditions and high temperatures expected this year.
Supervisor Warren Slocum, who co-sponsored the new ordinance along with Supervisor Don Horsley, said in a statement that he has heard complaints from his constituents about unpermitted fireworks. Slocum is supervisor for District 4, which includes Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park (east of El Camino Real) and the unincorporated North Fair Oaks neighborhood.
“They are very concerned for their safety and that of their neighborhood. So am I — and that is why this new ordinance with the increased fines is so important,” Slocum said.
People who violate the fireworks law and cause serious injury or property damage of more than $1,000 can also receive a misdemeanor along with the $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail. This applies even if violations occur on their own property.
While the county’s ordinance only applies to unincorporated areas, several cities have their own laws prohibiting fireworks.
Law enforcement agencies are also prepared to enforce the county’s fireworks law.
“They are very concerned for their safety and that of their neighborhood. So am I — and that is why this new ordinance with the increased fines is so important.”Supervisor Warren Slocum
San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos encouraged people to report illegal fireworks to local law enforcement.
“We understand that families want to celebrate, especially as COVID restrictions are eased, however fireworks are not only illegal, they can result is serious injuries and the destruction of property,” Bolanos said in a statement.
Local fire officials also support the ordinance.
Deputy Chief of Cal Fire’s San Mateo County Division Jonathan Cox said the fireworks restrictions could help prevent accidental injuries and reduce the chances of local wildfires.
“With over 90 percent of all wildfires in California being caused by human activity, we believe these restrictions are more important than ever to protect the communities we serve,” Cox said in a statement.
Last year’s fire season was one of the most destructive in California. Lightning strikes sparked a series of fires across the state, including the CZU Lightning Complex fires — which burned almost 90,000 acres in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County.
According to Cal Fire, California’s fire season is starting earlier and ending later each year, as dry conditions and high temperatures increase the risk for wildfires.
On Wednesday, Cal Fire added San Mateo County to the list of Bay Area counties where burn permits are suspended. The suspension, which took effect Thursday, bans all outdoor burning except at organized campgrounds or on private property.
Five Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Solano and Napa — are also under a drought state of emergency.
More information on San Mateo County’s fireworks ordinance is available online.