Police, who acted on an anonymous tip, went to the home at about 3 p.m. and discovered what they say are illegal fireworks in the garage. What they found surprised them, according to Tracy police Capt. Jeremy Watney.
“We had no idea of the magnitude (of fireworks) we walked into,” Watney said.
Tracy Fire Department Division Chief David Bramell called it the biggest cache of illegal fireworks discovered in Tracy in at least the past 10 years.
The tip came from someone who had been approached about buying some of the fireworks, according to police.
Watney said the amount of fireworks indicated they were not for personal use; police believe the owner, who has not been identified, was trying to sell them.
Police were not sure where the owner obtained the fireworks, but the boxes were marked “Made in China.”
Tracy Fire Department Division Chief David Bramell described what police found as “professional-grade fireworks” — similar to those seen in the city fireworks show.
“Things that explode or are aerial and leave the ground are illegal all the time,” Bramell said.
The seized boxes contained mostly aerial fireworks, rockets and mortars. There were also firecrackers similar to M-80s, large firecrackers that explode with enough force to maim someone holding them.
The size of the cache prompted police to alert the fire department about the potential hazard when the fireworks were discovered. An engine company was called to the scene as police officers searched the boxes.
Watney said most illegal fireworks confiscated by local police are small items. The volume discovered on Hillview Drive made officials wonder who would take custody of the fireworks, or if the San Joaquin County Bomb Squad should handle it.
The fireworks were taken from the house by the fire department and are being kept at an undisclosed, secure location. Eventually, they will be turned over to the state fire marshal’s office, which will handle disposal.
Bramell said the fire marshal’s office will impose fees on the city for the disposal, and the city will likely try to recoup the cost from the owner.
The penalty for possessing, selling or discharging more than 100 pounds of dangerous fireworks is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000, according to the marshal’s office.
As of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, no charges had been filed or citations issued to the owner of the fireworks, Watney said. But the case will be forwarded to the district attorney’s office, he added.
While criminal penalties for illegal fireworks might be severe, Brammel said the potential danger is even worse.
“There are professional-grade fireworks being fired off by people who aren’t professionals,” Bramell said. “I think the potential is high for loss of property or personal injury with fireworks of that magnitude. Those fireworks can cause a roof fire; go over a home and hit a field, setting it on fire; tip over and becomes a projectile and could injure a bystander.”
Even legal fireworks can be a danger if used improperly, Bramell said.
And the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District reminded residents via a media release that even well-used legal fireworks can injure neighbors because of the fumes, chemicals and particles they discharge.
“Celebrating our freedom also means recognizing that our actions directly impact the health of our communities,” said air district Chief Communications Officer Jamie Holt, adding that the elderly, small children and those with respiratory conditions are at higher risk from the particulate matter released by fireworks.
But local law enforcement officials are especially on the lookout for illegal fireworks in use in the lead-up to the July Fourth holiday.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department has not seen an especially large number of illegal fireworks in the county so far. Deputy Dave Konecny said calls for illegal fireworks typically pick up as the Fourth of July gets closer.
All fireworks — including the so-called “safe and sane” type that can be used in Tracy — are illegal to possess and discharge in unincorporated areas of the county, including Mountain House.
Tracy residents have already listened to nightly explosions of illegal fireworks.
“Statistically, it doesn’t look like it, but it appears there is an increase in the use of illegal and dangerous fireworks,” Bramell said. “If the trend continue,s it can lead to property damage or injury.”
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates there will be 9,000 injuries nationwide from fireworks this year and that a community the size of Tracy will average three. Injuries are most often burns, bruises and lacerations to the hands and face, but more powerful illegal fireworks can cause the loss of fingers or hands or even death.
The Tracy fire and police departments will step up patrols Tuesday, July 3, and on the Fourth of July holiday.
“We want to have a strong, concerted effort to remove this danger from the community — we will confiscate anything illegal in nature,” Bramell said.
Police ask those reporting illegal fireworks to call 911.