Bay Area’s use of illegal fireworks that explode in numbers
Amid what one fire official calls a ‘perfect storm’ – the first fire season of all time, widespread drought, dry vegetation and people keen to celebrate the first holidays since the lifting of COVID restrictions – danger breaks out every night just as the sun sinks below the horizon.
Boom! Fall in love! BOOM! (Pause). Crack-crack-crack-crack-crack! Pffffff. BOOM!”
Fireworks – even the so-called “safe and sane” variety – are illegal almost everywhere in the Bay Area. But that didn’t do much to stop their increasing use in the days leading up to a July 4th crescendo.
This year, firefighters are more nervous than ever.
Just consider the backdrop this year. California and the Bay Area are once again facing a drought this adds to the threat of fire when the weather gets hot. There will also be no restrictions on gatherings.
“We had hardly any rain,” said spokesman Steve Hill of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. “People are going out more. We are seeing fewer sanctioned fireworks, due to the combination of weather conditions and not really knowing where we were going to be with COVID. And we hear anecdotally about incidents of illegal fireworks use much earlier than last year, when we were in the midst of COVID. “
This year, fireworks will return to some cities like Antioch, Concord and Gilroy. The A’s will also host a fireworks display after their home game on July 2.
Firefighters across the region have said they will be on high alert on the fourth, with emergency operations centers to be used in Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and possibly Santa counties. Clara. Many jurisdictions have asked residents to cut their weeds to fight fires sooner than ever before, and crews could be stationed in high-risk areas depending on the intensity of the fire risk on the day of the fire. independence.
They also point out that while safe and healthy fireworks are purchased legally – Dublin, Union City and Newark in Alameda County; Pacifica and San Bruno in San Mateo County; and Gilroy in Santa Clara County allow them – they cannot be brought back and used in another town.
Communities across the Bay Area are also giving law enforcement a bit more surveillance and increasing fines for anyone setting off fireworks. In Contra Costa County, a new prescription allows law enforcement to cite property or boat owners who allow fireworks to be used on their property in the unincorporated part of the county, and citizens can be fined up to to $ 500 depending on the number of offenses. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt offered residents a $ 2,500 reward to report those that allow the use of fireworks if users are fined or convicted.
In unincorporated San Mateo County, anyone staging a fireworks display can now be fined $ 1,000 under a new ordinance, up from $ 100 previously. The Town of Oakley, Contra Costa County, and the Town of San Jose also impose fines of up to $ 1,000 on residents.
The new deterrents come after a July 4, 2020 season that statewide fire officials said was as bad as they remember. Contra Costa County has seen a “prolific” surge in illegal fireworks use, said fire chief Lewis Broschard. He added that the types of illegal fireworks used and the frequency with which they were used “were unprecedented”.
In San Jose, the South Bay hotspot for illegal fireworks, last year saw a “huge spike,” said fire spokeswoman Erica Ray. The city has rolled out education campaigns and doubled fines for first-time violators.
Assistant director Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the state has also seen an increase in the use of illegal fireworks in recent years, but the problem has become particularly serious during the pandemic.
“It seems,” he said of 2020, “like all communities in the state has become a war zone during July 4th.
Berlant said he hopes the state’s reopening on June 15 will encourage more cities to host sponsored fireworks, which will give people a way to safely enjoy the fireworks. But that might not be enough to bring the numbers down.
The lack of shows also leaves suppliers with an excess, and firefighters fear that some of that remaining supply will end up on the black market and in the hands of people who are not supposed to have them.
The state seized around 100,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in a week earlier this month, Berlant said. In a typical year, police and firefighters confiscate just over 200,000 pounds of illegal fireworks.
In San Mateo County, authorities seized around 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks on June 23-24 in an operation they say has also spread to Santa Clara, Alameda counties. and San Francisco.
ConFire investigators also made arrests in Pittsburg, Antioch and Concord between June 17 and June 21, as investigators seized 90 pounds of illegal fireworks during the Concord incident.
The fire teams held a demonstration last month to show how fast a roof can rise from a smoldering illegal fireworks display, but there have been a lot of real events happening over the past few weeks. Illegal fireworks sparked an apartment fire that displaced 40 people in Antioch and another blaze on the balcony of a second floor apartment in San Pablo.
A four-alarm fire in Vallejo that caused evacuations in Crockett also likely started from illegal fireworks, officials said.
“It’s a dangerous activity in all conditions,” Oakland Fire spokesman Michael Hunt said. “These conditions are particularly bad. … We have dodged a bullet so far.
Still, the barrage of fireworks isn’t expected to end anytime soon.
“I can say that I live in the city center [San Jose] region, ”Ray said. “And I hear fireworks every night.”