BEND, Ore. - The city of Bend had a big scare last year when an illegal firework caused a 10-acre fire at the base of Pilot Butte on the Fourth of July, closing Highway 20 and prompting nearby evacuations. That incident and a rising issue with illegal fireworks sparked creation of a police-fire task force to crack down on the problem.
NewsChannel 21 got an exclusive ride-along look Wednesday at how the task force works. A Bend firefighter and police officer are assigned to patrol the entire city, looking for people using illegal fireworks.
Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki said the task force does more than drive around. He said it also checks places like Craigslist to see if anyone is locally selling illegal fireworks online. Recently, the task force found someone who was doing just that.
"They were able to make contact with that person and determine that they were selling illegal fireworks on Craigslist, which is illegal,” Derlacki said. “We were able to confiscate those, and that's a few less fireworks being used, illegal fireworks being used in Bend over the holiday."
Derlacki said you can help, too. Many neighborhoods have put up signs warning people to not use illegal fireworks.
"There's only so much we can do,” Derlacki said. “There's only so many officers and firefighters that can be out there in the street. The more those neighbors can be out there, they more they can talk, the more they can work with their neighbors to reduce that use, the better off it's going to be.”
Derlacki said the Fourth of July holiday weekend is the busiest time of the year for both the Bend police and fire departments.
Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe said there's usually an average of 30 calls per day the fire department responds to. He said that number doubles, and sometimes even reaches 75 calls on the Fourth of July.
An illegal firework in Oregon is one that explodes, flies more than a foot in the air or moves sideways more than six feet. If you get caught with illegal fireworks, the fine is $750.
If you see someone using illegal fireworks in your neighborhood, Derlacki urged you to call the Deschutes County non-emergency dispatch number at (541) 693-6911.