California Authorities Bust Massive Illegal Fireworks Ring

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California authorities say they broke up one of the biggest illegal firework operations in state history, seizing nearly 50,000 pounds of fireworks and arresting seven people.

"We were surprised at the volume of the fireworks we seized from the locations. Twenty-five tons is a significant quantity of fireworks," said Shane Cunningham with Cal Fire.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Thursday that the arrests and fireworks seizures over the last two weeks were the culmination of a three-year investigation. The initial investigation began back in 2016 as a result of an anonymous tip and ultimately involved more than 80 officers working the case.

"The investigation involved significant surveillance operations over that three year period, ultimately leading to enough probable cause for us to acquire search warrants, serve those search warrants and then seize the 25 tons of fireworks," Cunningham told FOX40.

Cal Fire spokesman Michael Mohler said the seven suspects were arrested throughout Northern California and booked into the Calaveras County Jail. The district attorney there is mulling what charges to file.

Authorities say the suspects arrested were illegally importing, transporting, storing, distributing and selling illegal and dangerous fireworks throughout California for more than 30 years.

"In addition to the fireworks, officers seized over $115,000 in cash, as well as a variety of computers, cell phones and other personal items," Cunnigham said.

Mohler said the agency typically seizes about 200,000 pounds of illegal fireworks annually. He said the alleged illegal fireworks ring was one of the largest the agency has busted in recent memory.

California considers the fireworks uncontrollable and dangerous but they are legal in other states.

"We just went through the most catastrophic wildfire season in the state's history," said District 27 Senator Henry Stern. "Our communities are at risk and we know that. So we're going to be vigilant like an eagle this Fourth of July out there, making sure people are safe."

On average, every year fireworks in California start more than 18,000 fires.

"Just like protecting our borders from the illegal drug war, we've got to protect our borders from the illegal fireworks trade," Stern said. "We're talking about dangerous product getting into the hands of our communities and that is what government is here to do best, protect people. That's supposed to be job number one, safety."

Senator Stern is actually part of Governor Brown's task force on working on better ways to stop illegal fireworks from coming into the state.