Undercover Clovis firefighters crack down on illegal fireworks

The Clovis City Fire Department says their experiment working undercover to catch violators worked.
CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- No doubt you saw fireworks fly into the night sky on Fourth of July, and fire officials across the Valley say most of those were illegal.

At a multi-agency press conference Monday morning, the Clovis fire chief says a new tactic to catch violators undercover keeps the community and his firefighters safe. Fire Chief Mike Despain said, "Part of the issue is officer safety, so our officers are undercover sometimes in shorts and a T-shirt, and so they don't have the ability to protect themselves, and so sometimes when you confiscate it becomes confrontational."

Instead of giving a citation to violators and taking away their illegal fireworks on site, property owners will now receive a notice in the mail from firefighters who patrolled undercover. The Clovis fire chief says fines could cost up to $1,000. Although no illegal fireworks were confiscated, nearly 20 citations will be handed out. "But that's about four to five times what we normally are able to write just due to the time it takes to contact someone and get their identity," said Despain.

Longtime Clovis resident Mark Kim says he saw illegal fireworks go off in his neighborhood and noticed the undercover patrol. He said, "They came around patrolling the area, and I think it's a good idea to get the ones that were doing it illegally and for it not to continue. But families that did the safe and sane appreciated them coming around, making sure everything was OK."

Fire officials say they responded to dozens of calls on the holiday, including two calls for two major fires: one in Fresno County at Fowler and Jensen avenues, and the other in Central Fresno near Grant Avenue and Abby Street. The cause of those two fires is still under investigation.

But officials say most of the fires were started in trash cans or on street curbs from fireworks that were not properly put out with water. And for the first time in years, fire officials say there were no medical emergency calls.

In addition to Clovis, Cal Fire and Fresno City Fire officials say they believe the use of illegal fireworks was down due to the drought. They say Valley residents understand the high fire danger from the dry conditions.
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