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Renewed calls for Petaluma fireworks ban

Last week, as some Petalumans bought fireworks in preparation for the Fourth of July, Dolan Beaird was gearing up for a night of terror for his 4-year-old rescue dog.

As fireworks, both illegal and city-ordained “safe and sane” pyrotechnics, blasted off around his east side home, he gave his dog a veterinarian-prescribed sedative, plugged her ears with cotton and turned up the music. Even still, his canine companion was petrified until the early morning hours when the fireworks finally fell silent, he said.

“It’s the illegal ones that put her into a great fear,” the three-decade Petaluma resident said. “But most of them do – even the legal ones. They’re loud.”

The sale of state-approved fireworks inside city limits has long been a contentious topic, and the issue only seems to be heating up as local officials reported a 49 percent increase in responses to fireworks-related complaints over last year. Police and fire officials responded to 152 fireworks-related complaints between June 30, the day fireworks were available for purchase, and July 5. During the same period last year, personnel responded to 102 complaints, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

The city issues a limited number of permits for vendors to sell state-approved fireworks, and residents are allowed to use so-called safe and sane fireworks in areas of the city that don’t fall within the “high fire hazard severity zone.” Fireworks deemed as dangerous, including aerial explosives, are prohibited.

Officials confiscated several pounds of those illegal fireworks and doled out three citations, Lyons said. Many of the calls officials responded to involved those banned fireworks, he said.

“We’re just concerned about the amount of illegal fireworks going off – it seems to get worse every year,” Lyons said. “We don’t really have complaints about the state-approved fireworks.”

Illegal fireworks may have sparked a small vegetation fire on Cypress Drive around 10 p.m. July 4, Fire Marshal Jessica Power said. The blaze was extinguished before it caused significant damage to a nearby structure, she said.

Fire officials also responded to three trash can fires likely caused by still-hot firework materials, according to a police department news release. Personnel admonished residents after complaints of fireworks in a Crystal Lane neighborhood that falls in a no-fireworks zone. Firefighters also extinguished a blaze in a Wilson Street yard where a resident attempted to burn discarded material, police said.

“It was kind of a madhouse,” Power said.

The Petaluma Animal Services Foundation picked up five dogs during the frenzy, all of which were returned to their homes, said Operations Manager and Senior Animal Control Officer Mark Scott.

Though controversial, the sale of fireworks is a major fundraising tool for a number of nonprofits, which are allowed to operate booths between June 30 and July 4. Fireworks can only be used in the city for limited hours on July 4.

For Beaird, who has volunteered at fireworks booths in the past, the issue is a complex one. While he acknowledged the boost to nonprofits, other concerns overshadow that.

“To me, (the fundraising) doesn’t trump safety,” he said.

City Councilman and former fire chief Chris Albertson, who has long advocated for a ban of commercial fireworks within the city, also expressed concern about safety. He said illegal fireworks are often camouflaged by the state-approved fireworks, making it difficult to track down offenders.

“Yes, I would like to see a ban. That being said, I acknowledge that in this community, the chance of a ban is probably slim to none,” he said.

However, he pointed out that the number of fireworks booths will likely be reduced over time. The city doesn’t issue new permits and if an existing permit lapses for a year, it’s not eligible for renewal, he said.

Fireworks are banned in unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, as well as many municipalities, including Cotati and Sonoma. Lyons said he’s not certain a prohibition would quell firework activity entirely, but he said it could cut down on the frequency in Petaluma.

“They still continue to go on in other cities that have banned fireworks, maybe not as much,” he said. “We just need to continue to be proactive in our prevention tips and everything.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)