FONTANA - Southern California authorities are reminding the public about the dangers of illegal fireworks ahead of the July 4 holiday.
This winter's heavy rains led to heavier vegetation growth - and that means more fuel for fires started by fireworks, authorities said.
"Fireworks posse an additional fire danger to our communities, and extra vegetation growth this year means taller and drier grasses that have cured," said Jeff Birchfield, assistant chief with the San Bernardino County Fire Department. "It only takes one spark to start a potential disaster."
For one example, a fire last Friday in Riverside that threatened 15 homes may have been linked to fireworks. A nearby resident was cited $1,000 for possessing them illegally.
Investigators are actively targeting violators and confiscating devices. Officials at an Inland Empire press conference showed a homemade firework, which is the equivalent of a destructive device that is a felony to possess.
While violators may pay hefty fines, everyone pays the price for illegal fireworks.
Because of California's environmental laws, last year San Bernardino County taxpayers alone paid $1.5 million to have illegal fireworks disposed of out of state.
In a two-week period alone, Inland Empire officials stopped and seized 27,000 pounds of fireworks.
Medical professionals noted that fireworks can also maim, blind or inflict significant harm, especially to children.
"A lot of what we've seen are kids - kids more than adults," said Dr. John Culhane, medical director with the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center burn center. "So even if it is safe and sane make sure the kids are adequately supervised."
Several cities will be hosting fireworks displays on Independence Day as a safe alternative.