The Salt Lake County Fire Department and sheriff's patrols are cracking down on illegal sales of fireworks and illegal pyrotechnics.

Jay Miles, the fire department's director of public education and public relations, said the move was prompted by scores of calls July 4 and expected problems before and after July 24."There were 66 fire-related calls on July 4 in Salt Lake County alone, Miles said. "Of that number about 60 were caused by fireworks. About 90 percent of the 280 calls made to departments across the valley that day were related to fireworks."

During the evening of July 4, Salt Lake County Fire Department received one fire call every 1 1/2 minutes. Every piece of equipment in the department was involved at one particular time during the evening, Miles said.

He said illegal fireworks caused $85,000 in damage to two homes in unincorporated Salt Lake County July 4.

"We've had a major increase in fires this year, and we attribute it to hot, dry conditions and to an increase in the amount of illegal fireworks."

Even though July 4 has passed, the problem of grass fires continues, with most them caused by juveniles playing with illegal fireworks, he said.

Illegal fireworks are any devices that leave the ground and explode or detonate on the ground. They include bottle rockets, firecrackers, Roman candles and devices that are equipped with parachutes. State law also requires that youths must be at least 16 years old to buy fireworks without their parents present.

Miles said it's a Class B misdemeanor to make illegal sales, and citations will be issued to violators.

He said illegal sales do not just occur at stands but at homes and other places by people who may pick up materials in Wyoming or neighboring states.

"Any illegal fireworks at a stand, in a home or elsewhere will be confiscated. Illegal sales or possession of fireworks will constitute grounds for impounding of equipment or vehicles involved," Miles said.

"So it could be very costly for someone to be seen driving around and setting off fireworks or taking them to their friends' homes to be set off."

He said state law permits the sale of fireworks between June 20 and July 25 and Dec. 20 to Jan. 2, and the time for their use is limited. Fireworks may be set off three days prior to, on the day of or three days following July 4 and July 24, Jan. 2 and the Chinese New Year.

Dennis Stanley, a bomb expert and deputy director, Salt Lake County Emergency Services Division, said illegal fireworks are a serious problem in Salt Lake County.

"As a bomb technician, I look at the safety aspects because of the explosive potential of illegal fireworks."

Stanley said some materials, such as M-80s or M-100s, have the equivalent explosive force of a quarter stick of dynamite.

Miles said the fire department has made arrangements with several agencies to handle any problems.

"We have a bomb squad available, and the Emergency Operating Center is prepared to store any confiscated materials. We never know what we're going to encounter. Already this year we confiscated some homemade explosive devices that were made from toilet paper rolls," Miles said.

Miles said complaints or questions about fireworks should be directed to the Salt Lake County sheriff's office, 535-7441.