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Four Sonoma County cities selling safe-and-sane fireworks

The VFW Post 3919 fireworks stand in Sebastopol, is one of several fireworks stands set up in the city limits, Thursday June 29, 2017. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2017

NICK RAHAIM,

‘Safe and sane” fireworks will be on sale this weekend in just four cities in Sonoma County, with proceeds helping fund local civic organizations. The state-permitted, so-called “safe and sane” consumer fireworks are more of an appetizer to the main entrée of city-sponsored fireworks displays to celebrate Independence Day.

They smoke, sparkle and sizzle, but do not shoot into the air, explode and produce the chest-thumping “boom” that pleases a crowd.

“Safe and sane can still be dangerous,” said Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal.

In 2003, children playing with safe-and-sane fireworks sparked a 42-acre wildfire that destroyed a home in Rincon Valley, Lowenthal said. A year later, Santa Rosa voters passed a ballot measure that prohibited the use of all fireworks in city limits.

But the cities of Cloverdale, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol still allow sales of the holiday treat for a few days until July Fourth.

Sebastopol was the first city to permit sales this season; stands opened on Wednesday. In the Safeway parking lot on North Main Street in Sebastopol, members of the Gravenstein Lions Club were doing a steady business in the early afternoon.

“This is our main fundraiser of the year,” said Mike Mortensson, of the Gravenstein Lions Club. “We raise around $20,000 selling fireworks and give it all back to the community.”

A customer came up looking for a “Piccolo Pete Fountain” and left unhappy because the Lions didn’t have the popular firework for sale.

“It must not be safe or sane,” Mortensson said. “We work very closely with the fire department and we had to get their ‘OK’ before we could start selling.”

When asked what his favorite firework was, Mortensson and his fellow Lion, Jerry Coleman, said it was the “Purple Rain,” which shoots purple flames and sparks.

Down the road, in the parking lot of the Pacific Shopping Center, members of the VFW Post 3919 were in “friendly competition” with the Lions, selling their own safe-and-sane fireworks.

Like the Lions, VFW members Jerry Lites and Herb Hillaker also said their favorite firework was the “Purple Rain.” Yet none of the four men interviewed admitted to being fans of Prince, the late musician who produced the Grammy-winning album “Purple Rain” in 1984.

“I’m more of a Johnny Cash fan,” Lites said with a smile.

Fourth of July fireworks sales are also the main fundraiser of the year for the Sebastopol VFW.

“It funds our entire operating budget for the year,” said Hillaker.

Sebastopol resident Ashley Schroth-Cary stood outside the VFW fireworks tent with $50 of fireworks in her hands and two small children by her side.

“We look forward to this every year,” Schroth-Cary said, who plans to shoot them off at a holiday cookout. “They’re safe. We just have to keep the dog inside when we light them off.”

The Public Safety Department in Rohnert Park, which allows safe-and-sane fireworks, issued a public statement Thursday warning residents there was zero tolerance of illegal fireworks. Residents who are caught shooting off mortars, bottle rockets and Roman candles will face a $1,000 fine.

The statement also outlined ways to use safe-and-sane fireworks safely, by placing them on a hard, flat and level surface with no trees or flammable materials nearby.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.