Police hot on trail of holiday hijinks

Medford police cited 20 people for possessing illegal fireworks and responded to 135 reports of illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July, Medford police Chief Tim George said.

The citations came as police ramped up their Independence Day efforts after several years of booming celebrations. But, George said, catching illegal fireworks users is not as simple as it might seem.

"We probably could have cited more people, but it is difficult to witness a firework going off above town and then determine where it came from," George said. "Also, it was tough to determine who owned the illegal fireworks when we responded to some residences where they were going off."

The department had three additional officers, four community service officers and a fire marshal from Medford Fire-Rescue cruising in search of illegal fireworks, George said.

The ramped-up effort came after several Medford City Council members complained last year that the celebrations had grown out of hand. George said many residents seemed to have received the message that a crackdown was coming.

"Our officers said that this year the illegal firework activity was bit slower than previous years," George said.

"We believe that's because we've gotten the word out that we are going to be citing for illegal fireworks," George added. "The education component seems to have worked."

That education component came with a dire warning: Possessing illegal fireworks carries a $250 fine.

The department went to the media prior to the holiday and posted flyers in businesses to warn that people would be ticketed for using banned fireworks. In previous years, the agency did not make it a priority to cite residents for illegal fireworks over the holiday, but the tide shifted this year because of an increase in complaints, police said.

"We think that the danger of these fireworks outweighs the benefits at this point," George said. "There's other ways to enjoy the holiday without taking the chance of injuring people and starting a fire."

In one of the more serious incidents of the holiday, officers responded to a house in the 700 block of Rocky Road just before midnight for a report of injuries sustained when a firework exploded in a crowd of people.

A 34-year-old man was suspected of lighting a banned mortar that fell over and shot into a nearby group of people, which included two children. The mortar set a duplex on fire, but the residents were able to extinguish it prior to the arrival of fire crews.

No serious injuries were reported, but the man was cited for illegal fireworks and recklessly endangering another.

Last week, a 37-year-old man lighting fireworks on Mace Road lost a portion of his hand when he reportedly picked up a mortar that he thought was a dud.

Jackson County Fire District 3 crews chased down nine small grass fires Thursday night, with two reported near the Jackson County Expo. No structures were damaged and none of the fires grew beyond a quarter of an acre.

The fires were all started by illegal fireworks, District 3 Battalion Chief Greg Winfrey said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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