SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The use of high-tech aerial enforcement helped the City of Santa Maria capture the location where a number of illegal fireworks were launched during the night of the Fourth of July.
"Last night, our aerial operations were successful," said Santa Maria Fire Marshal Jim Austin. "We had about a 30-to-45-minute time period where we were successful in capturing multiple illegal launches on multiple properties throughout the city."
To help combat the growing issue of illegal fireworks, Santa Maria deployed a high-altitude aircraft with video and GPS technology to pinpoint exact launch locations.
Due to overcast meteorological conditions during the night, the plane was only able to operate in the sky above Santa Maria for a short period of time.
However, according to Austin, when it was airborne and had the ability to capture launch points, it was able to identify several locations that may now be subject to a $1,000 citation.
"We are confident that we have between 12-and-15 citations to issue pending review from the City Attorney's Office," said Austin. "We have another eight that we're confident we have the information, but we're not sure if those will make it through the legal process."
Even though the number of potential citations are a mere fraction of the total number of illegal fireworks launched, Austin believes its progress towards addressing the ongoing issue.
"Although we're not satisfied with that number, it is a step in the right direction," said Austin. "I see positive changes in the future for us with this type of technology and my hope is we start discouraging the level of use of illegal fireworks that we're seeing in the City of Santa Maria."
Looking forward into the future, Austin hopes to keep the aerial surveillance program in place, potentially expanding it, so it may be able to capture more violators.
"The plan is to continue aerial enforcement every year," said Austin. "We are budgeting for it. We feel that it is a success and that it is a tool that the technical advantages of it are solid for prosecution. It is undeniable when you capture it on video and you can identify the properties and the people. We hope to increase it, but that is pending budgets."
The Santa Maria Fire Department responded to four separate fires on the Fourth of July that are possibly linked to fireworks, as well as five dumpster/trash bin fires that also contained evidence of fireworks use in the area.
Much like the Fire Department, the Santa Maria Police Department was also busy on Independence Day, especially into the evening hours.
"From 5 p.m. to midnight last night, there was 181 total calls for service that officers responded to, just a variety of calls, and of the 181 calls, about 87 were fireworks related," said Sgt. Felix Diaz, Santa Maria Police Department. "There were illegal fireworks going off throughout the city. Kind of hard to contain the exact location because they were coming from so many locations throughout the city."
Diaz pointed out the police handed out 11 citations over the past several days that were related to illegal fireworks use.
Even though the volume of illegal fireworks launched reached into the tens of thousands, both the police and fire departments both say there were no major incidents to report.
"All things considered, and what we witnessed last night, I feel the City of Santa Maria came out of this very lucky," said Austin. "The potential was certainly there, but overall we did not see any significant incidents."