TRUCKEE -- As the Fourth of July approaches, law enforcement agencies statewide are already on the lookout for fireworks smugglers at various points along California’s border.
Throughout the week Cal Fire, in conjunction with the US Forest Service, State Parks, Fish and Wildlife and Truckee Police, has been confiscating illegal fireworks at the California Food and Agriculture Inspection Point in Truckee, a checkpoint near the Nevada border.
"We come in and out of California, and this is the first time they've ever asked us to open the trailer,” said Henry Haurand, a native of Salt Lake City who regularly comes through California.
Haurand and his wife Mary were just a few of the people who, for the first time in their lives, were asked to pull over and have their cars searched before coming back into California. Authorities went through Moua Thao's van too.
"They looked through. They told me to open the trunk and they looked through that,” said Thao.
"They asked us if we had any coolers, didn't ask anything specific, whether we had anything they just wanted to look inside the trailer,” said Haurand. Neither one was breaking the law, but law enforcement was working with diligence to find fireworks.
Illegal fireworks that come into California from Nevada often have devastating effects, to the tune of 2,500 structure and wildfires in the past five years alone, according to Cal Fire.
"Each year around this time we see a significant spike in the amount of illegal fireworks,” said Daniel Berlant, a Public Information Officer with Cal Fire.
Berlant says tens of thousands of pounds of illegal fireworks have already been seized in Southern California. In Truckee, near the Nevada border, more than a thousand pounds were seized just this week. In recent years authorities say their policing efforts have even moved online.
"Criminals are using the web to try to push their products,” said Berlant. But many still smuggle illegal fireworks the old fashioned way, and those that do end up in trouble, Berlant says. Authorities arrested three people this week alone, and cited 16 more for misdemeanors.
"It's just too dangerous, you could blow your hand off. You could do major damage to children and you could start a fire,” said Berlant.
For a first offense with illegal fireworks, fines can range up to $1,000 plus jail time, unless the amount of fireworks is more than 100 pounds, in which case the penalties can range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, with the possibility of time in prison.