Fireworks buyback a success in San Mateo County, misuse could mean huge fines

Come Wednesday, fireworks stands will open up in a declining handful of Bay Area towns that still allow the tamest, but still dangerous, fireworks available. Knowing how, when and where to use them is critical and could be very expensive.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office first time ever, 'no-questions-asked' fireworks buy-back program netted 400 pounds of fireworks on Sunday. Those who turned in the fireworks were paid, based on weight of the fireworks, up to $75 in cash. Los Angeles also did a similar buyback last Saturday, retrieving 500 pounds of fireworks.

The sheriff's department says many of the items turned in are illegal and potentially deadly pyrotechnics such as M-80s, aerial rockets, mortar-style fireworks and military-grade smoke grenades. "It's impossible to predict where those will land. They might land on a neighbor's roof. They might land in some dry brush where it can easily cause a fire, especially now," said  Sgt. Phil Hallworth of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.

Don't let the term "safe and sane' fool you, because what's true in San Mateo County is pretty much true in all of them. "There are only a couple of cities that offer the 'safe and sane' type of fireworks and those are restricted to certain areas within those cities," said Sgt. Hallworth.

Even in Pacifica, there are only two places where these safe and sane can be used, either at South Rockaway Beach or Pacifica beach, and only in the designated areas.  Otherwise, they're just as illegal as illegal ones. "Safe and sane fireworks are not allowed in the majority of the county. And those still pose a serious fire risk and even bodily harm," said Hallworth.

  (KTVU FOX 2)

Though 400 or 500 pounds may not seem like much, given the tons of illegal fireworks that will be set off in the next few days, this is 400 fewer pounds of a chance for a fire or injury. "Fines are still $1,000 generally speaking for illegal fireworks they're up to $2,000 for certain situations and there's a new fine now; $500 for anyone spectating," he said. That citation will be issued to any deliberate spectator, within 200 feet of the illegal fireworks discharge.

So, why do some cities allow the sales? For many worthy non-profit organizations, this is their primary fundraiser for the year.