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Dear LAist: What's Up With Illegal Fireworks In LA?

A panorama of fireworks from Dodger Stadium in 2011. (Stock photo by Will Hastings via Flickr Creative Commons)
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that in and around Los Angeles, one might hear fireworks at any time of the day or night. They may be in relation to a holiday or they may not; they may be the type of firework deemed "safe and sane" by the state of California (although still illegal in L.A.) or they may not.

But the phenomenon is widespread enough that LAist reader Jimmy wrote in and asked, "What's up with fireworks in L.A.? I hear them all the time." (question has been edited for length and clarity).

California allows cities to determine whether they can sell "safe and sane" fireworks. The designation means that the item in question doesn't fly or explode, and that it bears the safe and sane logo from the California State Fire Marshal.

In both unincorporated L.A. County and the city of L.A., all fireworks are illegal, including those deemed safe and sane. Within L.A. County, though, 39 cities allow safe and sane fireworks to be bought and sold -- although many of those cities have restrictions on them -- including Monterey Park, La Puente and Rosemead.

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And illegal fireworks are still used in the area.

"People either go to neighboring states where they are able to purchase them and then drive them back, or they buy them online," said David Barrett, the executive director of MySafe:LA, a private organization that works with the Los Angeles Fire Department to educate the public on fire safety.

And while readers like Jimmy may indeed hear them regardless of the season, there's one time of year that they become much more ubiquitous.

"People utilize fireworks all year round, but obviously there is a steep spike around the Fourth of July," said Erik Scott, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

At that time, adds Barrett, the use of illegal fireworks tends to increase from the third week in June through the end of July. The intensity of that increase depends on when the actual holiday falls.

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"[The amount of] activity tends to relate to the day of the week on which the Fourth of July falls," said Barrett. "If the 4th falls on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, there is a lot more noise than if it's Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday."

Meanwhile, LAFD and the Los Angeles Police Department have done some work to curtail the use of illegal fireworks. They've established an anti-fireworks group and set up a hotline for resident reports, and the departments post lists of legal fireworks shows so residents can still enjoy the display without risking injury or property damage. (LAist publishes a list every year, too.)

So far, said Scott, it seems to be working.

"Due to this abundance of public outreach, we have seen some decrease in some areas," he said. "That's why we continue to take efforts to minimize the illegal use of fireworks."

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