- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2007

D.C. fire investigators have arrested 10 persons and seized tens of thousands of dollars worth of firecrackers and two guns during raids on illegal fireworks dealers in recent days, Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said yesterday.

“All of these here are non-approved fireworks,” Chief Rubin said as he stood before 55 sealed cardboard boxes of firecrackers at Engine 24 on Georgia Avenue in Northwest.

The fireworks on display were seized recently from a truck in Southeast, he said. It was the biggest haul from about 10 confiscations throughout the District in recent days leading up to the Independence Day holiday today.

“This is only one of our seizures. We’ve been very lucky,” Fire Marshal Gary Palmer said. “We will keep on for two more days.”

The seizures, estimated to be “tens of thousands of dollars of illegal fireworks,” resulted in the arrests of 10 dealers, who are facing charges in U.S. District Court. Investigators also seized drugs and two pistols, one of which was fully loaded.

“Our streets are much safer, thanks to the efforts of our fire investigators and inspectors. Their efforts have prevented injuries or perhaps deaths this year,” Chief Rubin said.

He said fireworks injure more than 10,000 people every year in the United States.

“We have had one significant injury already,” Chief Rubin said, pointing out that a 5-year-old boy was seriously hurt from the explosion of a firecracker that was put in his pocket.

From the cardboard boxes, most of them labeled “Made In China,” Chief Rubin lifted a red, white and blue flag-labeled carton of “Shoots Flaming Balls.”

“A single one of these could blow a child’s hand off,” he said.

Some fireworks are permitted in the District, and sellers must obtain permits from the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Fire officials say that, in general, any fireworks or firecrackers that explode — such as cherry bombs, roman candles or floral shells — are illegal.

Some violators have been selling fireworks from vehicles, while others have “been using children to help sell,” Chief Palmer said.

He said permits for sales of legal fireworks were issued to 72 stands. Four applicants were rejected, and six stands have been closed.

A task force of firefighters, fire marshals and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents have been working overtime to seize illegal fireworks and arrest sellers, Chief Rubin said.

Violators may be sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined up to $300, said Assistant Attorney General David Rubenstein.

He urged residents to watch for illegal fireworks operations, to write down the license tags of suspected vehicles and to call the Fireworks Tip Line, 202/321-2653.

“We follow up on all the tips,” Chief Rubin said.

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