Task Force Snuffs Out Illegal Fireworks

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A District task force shut down an illegal fireworks distributor Saturday and collected 55 boxes of fireworks, fire department officials announced yesterday, standing against a backdrop of confiscated boxes with markings such as "Super Nitro," "Liberty S.S." and "Happy Fingers."

The distributor, whom the task force would not identify, was arrested on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE with a vehicle full of illegal fireworks he had tried to sell to licensed fireworks booths in Southeast, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Fire Marshal Gary Palmer said the raid should have a "significant impact" on illegal fireworks for Fourth of July celebrations.

The task force of officials from the D.C. fire and police departments and the attorney general's office arrested 10 people last weekend. Task force members said they have confiscated more than 100 boxes of illegal fireworks, worth more than $50,000, in addition to at least two firearms and an unspecified amount of drugs.

Officials would not release the names of those arrested or the locations of the arrests.

Anyone found using or possessing illegal fireworks in the District can face fines of up to $1,000 and confiscation of the fireworks or be arrested, police said.

Palmer said that about 10,000 people in the United States are injured each year by fireworks, and a few are killed. Palmer said that most complaints from D.C. residents are about fireworks that damage property or scare people.

"Our goal and our mission is to get these illegal fireworks off the streets," he said.

The District allows some fireworks, including sparklers less than 20 inches long, fountains and cones, Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said. Anything that explodes, cracks, moves, shoots projectiles or sprays sparks higher than one foot is illegal. Even if such fireworks are bought legally in other states, they can't be used in the District.

Rubin said the city might need to reexamine its fireworks policy and perhaps outlaw all fireworks, as Montgomery and Prince George's counties have done. In Virginia, fireworks restrictions vary among localities, but the state bans the private use of most fireworks.

The task force will continue working in the District today and will have 30 police recruits patrolling neighborhoods. The group encourages people to report illegal fireworks activity by calling the fire department's tip line at 202-321-2653. Callers are guaranteed anonymity.

"We could be anywhere, any place, any time in the city," Palmer said.

Staff writer Jonathan Mummolo contributed to this report.

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