Cal Fire seizes 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks, believed to be biggest bust in agency history

- With just a month to go before the Fourth of July, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection  announced they seized more than 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks and arrested seven people in the last two weeks.

Cal Fire Deputy Director Michael Mohler said this seizure is believed to be Cal Fire’s largest confiscation of fireworks in agency history.

State Fire Marshal Denis Mathisen called the sale and distribution of illegal fireworks, especially during wildfire season, a dangerous "epidemic." He used a Thursday news conference in Sacramento to ask for more funding to investigate these crimes and to dispose of these explosive devices as they can't simply be dumped in a landfill.

Those arrested for allegedly importing, transporting, storing and selling fireworks throughout California were identified as: Larry Lista of Salida, Jack Schroll of Walnut Creek, Tanya Schroll of Walnut Creek, Michael Solorio of Modesto, Donald Cerasi of Copperopolis, Maria San of Salida and  Leon Cerasi of Salida. This ring had been operating for about 30 years, officials said. 

The fireworks originally came from Montana and Nevada, officials said. Guns and $115,000 were also recovered.

Cal Fire reports that on average each year, fireworks in California start 18,500 fires, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires. The fires, on average, cause three deaths, 40 civilian injuries, and $43 million in direct property damage, Cal Fire said. 

More than 80 officers investigated the ring over three years after receiving an anonymous tip from someone living in Central California. Cal Fire Staff Chief Shane Cunningham said it took so long as officers had to set up surveillance and serve multiple warrants where fireworks were found in Copperopolis, Modesto, Salida, Hayward, Walnut Creek and Oakland..

"What's the message to the ultimate end user?" Mathiesen said. "We're not sorry about putting an end to this lucrative business." 

He suggested that July 4 revelers use legal fireworks or attend a sanctioned public event instead. 

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