Setting off illegal fireworks just once in Medford on the Fourth of July could cost you a minimum of $150, and don't count on police to look the other way this year.
"We are going to enforce fireworks laws this year," Medford police Lt. Curtis Whipple told the City Council Thursday.
To help the public understand local fireworks laws and the price for disobeying them, Whipple said, the police and fire departments will conduct an education campaign to get the word out.
In a 24-hour period last July 4, Medford police responded to 85 calls for noise disturbance, but no one was fined. The city fire department reported five small grass fires started by fireworks over a three-day period around July 4.
The issue of illegal fireworks came up last year when city councilors received complaints from various neighborhoods about noise and litter caused by Independence Day revelers.
"Most of my phone calls received have to do with noise," Councilor Dick Gordon said.
Councilor Bob Strosser said, "It's the mortars going off and rattling the windows."
But Councilor Eli Matthews said he sees more of a public safety issue, expressing concern about fireworks rocketing over his house.
"People are scared," he said.
Councilor Chris Corcoran said he removed his wood shingle roof and replaced it with asphalt shingles over concerns about rockets being set off in a parking lot next to his house.
Medford police Chief Tim George said Fourth of July falls in some of the busiest times for his department, which steps up its campaign against drunk drivers in summer months. As a result, George said ,he would have to spend money on overtime to place officers strategically throughout the city to nab residents setting off illegal fireworks.
One possible solution to curtail fireworks at other times of the year would be to not allow them anywhere in the city except for the night of July 4, George said.
Another idea police are considering is to increase the fine for multiple offenses. The first-time fine of $150 could be doubled on a second offense and then doubled again for a third transgression.
Illegal fireworks in Oregon include mortars, bottle rockets, aerial spinners, sky rockets, missile rockets, roman candles and firecrackers. Cherry bombs, M80 and M100s are considered explosive devices. Any firework that travels more than six feet horizontally or more than 12 inches vertically from the point of ignition is illegal.
"Anything loud that goes boom or flies in the air is illegal," George said.
Illegal fireworks can be purchased out of state or over the internet. Websites also provide instructions on how to turn a relatively innocuous firework or common household chemical into something that will explode.
One of the big dangers from aerial fireworks comes when they land in vacant fields, igniting weeds and brush.
As a result, the police stepped up enforcement last year on properties where the weeds grew more than 10 inches. In 2012, the city found 511 properties that needed to have weeds removed.
Police Sgt. Ben Lytle said it can be difficult to get some property owners to deal with their overgrowth.
He said one 13-acre property off Cloudcrest Drive had weeds growing taller than his head last summer. The owners of the property, a Texas trust, were difficult to find, so the city was forced to spend $13,000 to hire its own crew to cut the brush while fire engines were on hand.
If the city takes on the task itself, it requires repayment from the property owner or puts a lien on the property to recover the expense when the land is sold.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The fine amount has been corrected in the subhead on this story.