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Border Fireworks Sales Said Down

July 4, 1998

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Historically, a certain kind of smuggling picked up about this time of year. Not any more, vendors across the border in Mexico say.

Arizona is one of 10 states in which fireworks are illegal for ordinary people, though municipalities and various organizations stage elaborate shows that use them _ with permits.

But Arizona is surrounded by places where fireworks are legal, including California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado _ and Mexico.

And word that fireworks are illegal in Arizona seems to be taking hold.

In recent years, said Rafael Guerra, chief U.S. Customs inspector in Noglaes, agents expected to seize up to 300 pounds of fireworks a year.

Last year, he said, they confiscated only 50 to 100 pounds.

``Mostly it’s big kids who haven’t gotten over the jollies of setting off fireworks,″ Guerra said of those who still are caught trying to sneak firecrackers back across the line.

Guerra said that typically, agents confiscate the goods and fine the small-time ``smuggler″ an amount equal to the fireworks’ value.

People who actually declare fireworks at the border are given a chance to return them, he added.

Jose Antonio Rivera Cortez, an assistant to the mayor of Nogales, Mexico, said vendors in his town don’t sell a lot of fireworks at this time of year. More typically, the big buys come in anticipation of New Year’s Eve of around Mexico’s independence day, Sept. 16, he said.

Bernardo Rascon said the candy store in which he clerks mainly stocks fireworks for in December for Christmas and New Year’s festivities but that he has a few U.S. customers this time of year.

``I tell them they’re not legal on the other side and they’re difficult to cross,″ Rascon said. ``That stops most people from buying them, but there are always a few who want them anyway.″

In Agua Prieta, across the border from Douglas in southeastern Arizona, Renata Mendoza said most of her fireworks customers at the candy and stationery store where she clerks are young people from the United States.

``They know they’re illegal, but I don’t think it matters to them,″ she said.

Sheri Wolford, co-owner of Wholesale Fireworks in Deming, N.M., about 200 miles east of Tucson, said business is good there. She doesn’t keep track of Arizona purchasers but said most of her out-of-state buyers are traveling between Arizona and El Paso.

``We get a lot of, `Where I’m from this is illegal,‴ she added.

At the Lukeville border crossing that leads to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, U.S. Customs Port Director Ray Jensen said most tourists crossing in to Mexico there buy and use fireworks while visiting the popular beach resort about 65 miles from the border.

However, agents seize about 100 pounds of fireworks a year, he said.

Jensen added a warning that fireworks manufactured in Mexico are more dangerous than those typically sold in the United States.

He said the quality of the fuses, the amount of explosive material in each device and their explosive strength are inconsistent. That means the user doesn’t know how much time he has to get away after lighting the fuse or how powerful the blast will be _ even among the same type of fireworks.

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