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Fewer complaints to police this year as crowds flock to July 4th fireworks shows

The number of noise complaints and reports of illegal fireworks handled by law enforcement across Orange County over the July 4th holiday fell in 2021, in some places dramatically, as spectators flocked to professional pyrotechnic events that were shuttered last year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies responded to 299 fireworks-related calls this July 4th. That compared to 558 fireworks-related calls in 2020, and 307 in 2019, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Anderson.

In Anaheim, police responded to 331 calls involving mortars, roman candles and other types of illegal fireworks this year, Anaheim Police Sgt. Jacob Gallacher said. It was a significant drop from the 549 reports officers handled in 2020, and even fewer than the 381 they received the prior year.

However, many calls came in all at once Sunday. At one point, there were over 190 requests for service holding for a police response in Anaheim, Gallacher said.

Last July, public fireworks shows were canceled as the number of people infected with coronavirus climbed past 16,000 in Orange County. That may have encouraged more people to get their own recreational explosives in 2020, Gallacher said.

“People were absolutely excited to have professional fireworks back,” Gallacher said. “We typically have large crowds gathering in the downtown and Disneyland areas for the park’s July 4th show, and people really missed that last year.”

But even as pandemic restrictions eased in Southern California and sanctioned events featuring luminous bursts of color returned to the skies, some neighborhoods saw horrible accidents with DIY pyrotechnics.

Doctors at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital received five patients with serious injuries linked to fireworks on July 4th, including one young child, and one man who lost four fingers when something he was holding exploded in his right hand, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer said. The five were handling items described as roman candles, firecrackers, and rockets.

In Garden Grove, a large fireworks explosion blew out windows at an apartment complex and on a vehicle, police said. An 8-year-old child hurt in that incident was transported to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana with a severe injury to his eye and burns to parts of his body. Officers found five other children injured in the blast.

The amount of illegal fireworks seized by officials also grew in some parts of Orange County this year.

Deputies throughout the county confiscated over 14,000 lbs. of fireworks, mostly purchased in Nevada and valued between $200,000 and $250,000, in the first seven months of this year, Anderson said. They collected a total of just 8,356 lbs. in 2020.

And in Santa Ana, officers found 59,493 items described as illegal fireworks in 2021, compared to 43,838 in 2020 and just 6,375 in 2019, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said. However, less than 10 pounds of fireworks were taken by police in Anaheim, Gallacher said.

Police in Santa Ana issued 48 citations over the holiday weekend associated with either loud fireworks or parties, Bertagna said. It wasn’t immediately clear how many citations were issued by Sheriff’s deputies during the weekend, but they made no arrests related to July 4th festivities, Anderson said. No people were cited for using illegal fireworks in Anaheim, Gallacher said.

Anaheim police tend to focus their efforts on educating people using illegal fireworks about the harm they might cause to themselves and their surroundings, rather than penalizing them, Gallacher said. That’s at least in part due to the fact that the sheer volume of calls they have to deal with during the holiday makes it difficult to fully investigate every report received.

“When you’ve got that many calls, you have to try to address them in a timely fashion,” Gallacher said. “We might get reports of the kind of fireworks you’d see over Disneyland, but by the time we get there all of the mortars have somehow disappeared, or have been tossed into the bushes.”

Santa Ana and Anaheim are two of only 10 cities in the county that permit the sale and use of “safe and sane,” non-projectile fireworks on July 4th. In Anaheim, the use of any explosive is prohibited anywhere east of the 55 Freeway, where there is an inherent risk of vegetation-covered hillsides catching fire, Gallacher said.

But police received 55 reports of illegal fireworks in that area on Sunday despite the ban. Meanwhile, at least 10 fires handled by firefighters in Anaheim over the weekend were possibly connected to fireworks, Gallacher said.

Source: Orange County Register

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