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  Tragedy and Illegal Fireworks
July 5, 2013

In 2011, I discovered that despite widespread assumption to the contrary, Richmond did not actually have a ban on fireworks, as did all other cities in Contra Costa County. I introduced an ordinance to correct that shortcoming. The staff report stated:
Each year, the City of Richmond is faced with a number of complaints and public safety related issues regarding the use of fireworks. Many cities across the nation are addressing the challenges with regulating fireworks in their respective municipalities. Because the City of Richmond does not have a fireworks ordinance, the city is limited to relevant Health and Safety Codes or narrow violations under the state law.

The relevant Health and Safety Codes only regulates “dangerous fireworks” which leaves a large number of fireworks unregulated by the state (many of which are designated as “safe and sane”). Unfortunately, “safe and sane” fireworks provide both a heat source that creates a fire hazard  and can also cause bodily injury (sparks in eyes, burns, et c.). Increasingly, cities and counties are now stringently regulating or outright banning these “safe and sane” fireworks, both due to fire hazards and potential for injury. The Fire Department regulates permit violations of designated “dangerous fireworks” only (generally pyrotechnic), but most problems stem from fireworks being set off in the street and in back yards; complaints of such activities are responded to by the Police Department and not Fire personnel (unless there is a fire or injury).

The proposed ordinance will prohibit the possession or discharge of fireworks.
The ordinance was adopted unanimously by the City Council on September 20, 2011.
Tragically, an apparent violation of this ordinance resulted in two deaths and a critical injury for a Richmond family early this morning.
It is unfortunate that with the many public displays of fireworks all over the Bay Area, including Richmond, a large number of people are still compelled to illegally purchase and set off private fireworks.
2 dead in Richmond blaze linked to fireworks
Ellen Huet and Will Kane
Updated 9:26 am, Friday, July 5, 2013
 (07-05) 09:25 PDT RICHMOND -- A mother and father died and their son was critically injured after the detached garage in Richmond where all three slept caught fire early Friday, possibly as a result of Fourth of July fireworks the family set off, authorities said.
Firefighters responded to the home at 621 21st St. at 2:37 a.m. and found that the converted garage to the rear was on fire, said Deputy Fire Marshal Robin Poindexter.
The father, Mearn Lee Pom, 56, and the mother, 50-year-old Bounkeo Viengvilai, were found in the garage and pronounced dead after firefighters tried to revive them, Poindexter said.
The couple's adult son was found by firefighters on fire, running through the backyard, she said.
With burns covering 100 percent of his body, the son was taken first to the nearby Kaiser Hospital and then to the burn center at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, where he remained in critical condition later in the morning, Poindexter said.
She said six other children of the couple, who were sleeping in the house at the time of the fire, were unharmed.
Some of the children didn't live at the home, but had returned for a Fourth of July celebration, neighbors said.
Fire investigators found beer cans, cigarette butts and fireworks strewn across the front yard, and believe the fireworks could have ignited the blaze, Poindexter said. Fireworks are illegal in Richmond.
"I got home a little past 10 p.m. and people were hanging out outside drinking," said Ulises Moreno, 21, who lives next door. "I heard fireworks around 11 or 12."
Jesus Ramos, 49, was asleep in his home across the street when the fire started.
"I woke up and heard screaming," Ramos said. "It was someone screaming 'Help, help' and I heard a big commotion. I came outside and saw flames above the house and I went back inside and called 911."
Ramos said the man and woman who died were friendly neighbors who often invited him over for dinner.
"I saw them carrying out a body," he said. "It really made me sad to hear it was the mom and dad. The mom was really friendly. Avery time I saw her on the street, she said 'Hi, mijo,' " slang for the Spanish term for "my son."
The garage and the home did not have smoke detectors, Poindexter said.
Ellen Huet and Will Kane are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: ehuet@sfchronicle.com, wkane@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @EllenHuet, @WillKane