Warning on Fireworks' Explosive Power

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck reminds the public that it's illegal to buy, sell or set off fireworks in the city; federal agents demonstrate the dangerous nature of fireworks.

Local and federal public safety officials issued warnings Thursday of the dangers of illegal fireworks, and sacrificed several watermelons in explosive demonstrations to underscore their point.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) teamed up with county and city fire officials to warn the public about the dangers of illegal fireworks.

ATF explosives enforcement officer Roy House detonated legal and illegal fireworks attached to watermelons to show their potential destructiveness and unpredictability. House had a so-called "M-80" illegal firecracker, which typically comes from Mexico, lined up to detonate, but it was a dud. He pulled out another M-80, and it blew the watermelon to smithereens.

"Go see a fireworks show, a regulated fireworks show, because these products are very dangerous," House said. 

Beck reminded the public that it is illegal to sell or use fireworks in Los Angeles and urged people to watch a legal public display.

"We want people to enjoy the Fourth, but don't do something that will put yourself in jail," Beck said. "Don't shoot firearms in the air and don't display fireworks. We want people to enjoy the Fourth, but to do it legally."

The county's Department of Beaches and Harbors announced several months ago that there will be no Fourth of July fireworks this year in Marina del Rey due to budget constraints. 

Beck said the cancellation of public fireworks shows might lead to more illegal displays, but said he didn't think the impact would be huge.

"There are still multiple locations, we have dozens in the city of Los Angeles, where people can go enjoy the fireworks. There are many venues," Beck said.

Detective Paul Robi of the LAPD's bomb squad had a table filled with illegal fireworks confiscated by police and warned of their dangers. 

Plum-sized mortar balls that can fly 80 feet up in the air and aerial bottle rockets are troublesome because they fly out of control and can land anywhere and start a fire, Robi said. A boy who was tinkering with a mortar tube last year thought he had a dud, but a mortar exploded in his face, Robi said.

"The bottom line with fireworks is that when you take off the cardboard and plastic packaging you're left with explosives," Robi said. "The other problem is that it's a huge draw on city resources. This sounds like a gunshot when it goes off and now the police are responding to numerous gunshot calls when, in fact, it's fireworks."


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