EL CENTRO – On Tuesday, September 23, the Board of Supervisors listened to Imperial County Fire Chief, Tony Rohoutas, Jr., report on bringing firework use and the sales of fireworks back to the unincorporated areas of the county.
Rohoutas reminded the room the law forbidding fireworks in the county came because of the extensive damage caused by the careless use next to haystacks over the 4th of July holidays during the years of 2004 – 2006. In response, the board shut down the use and sales of fireworks in the county.
Board CEO, Ralph Cordova, said it was worst on windy nights after watching the Freedom Fest’s firework’s display, people would use haystacks to block the wind. “I remember being told that within three minutes that stack of hay was up in flames.”
Also fire damage occurred along the New River brush and the brush next to the Rio Bend R.V. Resort.
Now the board is bringing the subject back after 5 of the 7 cities allow the sale and use of fireworks within their jurisdiction.
Rohoutas said the county fire numbers continue to improve with the ban in place. Each year fewer fires are reported as a result of fireworks. “Also within the report I submitted researching the data, it shows the majority of counties do not allow fireworks in their unincorporated areas.”
Michael Kelley, District 3, said, “That’s because the majority of their unincorporated areas are forests, ours is desert and sand.”
Another weight the county must measure if allowing fireworks are 4,597 square miles of county that must be covered by law enforcement. The Chief said Imperial County is vastly underserved with not enough manpower to cover that area on the days surrounding the 4th.
Cordova said the costs would include mandatory overtime for every fireman on their payroll over that holiday to ensure the public remains safe.
Because the holiday is a ‘great American Heritage’ according to Michael Kelley, and everyone likes to celebrate the country’s birthday, he made a motion for the matter to come back for further consideration. Kelley thought the sale of fireworks could remain banned, letting the cities monitor the sales and the use in the county could be limited to personal property or have written permission from the owner to set off fireworks.
Ryan Kelley, District 4, said that the majority of sales in the cities are by non-profit organizations. He said, “If the county begins allowing sales, that might deduct from funds raised by the non-profits.”
County Counsel, Michael Rood, was directed to write up an ordinance reflecting the ideas mentioned. However, this would not be the first reading, just further discussion.
The agricultural community would be notified so their voice could be heard at the next firework discussion.