Fourth of July

Bay Area Fire Officials Ask Public to Put Away Fireworks Amid Dry Conditions

If a firework accident does occur, officials ask the public to immediately call 911.

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Fire officials across the Bay Area are urging people to put away their sparklers and ditch the firecrackers in the name of safety this Fourth of July weekend.

As it stands, only 12 cities in the nine-county Bay Area permit the sale of "Safe and Sane" fireworks.

But despite the bone-dry conditions across the region, plenty of families on Friday were stocking up on safe-and-sane fireworks. Police say there are plenty of people hunting for illegal fireworks as well.

In the East Bay, one fireworks vendor is an athletic director for a private high school in Dublin. The sales mark their biggest fundraiser of the year. He said they've sold roughly $80,000 worth of fireworks.

With every sale, there's a warning – a list of cities where it’s illegal to set off fireworks and a map of where people can go to safely set off fireworks. There's also a reminder that some fireworks are banned everywhere.

"I decided to get these and let 'er rip," Joe Okimura of Dublin said.

Okimura is having his family over for the holiday weekend. After dinner, that’s when the show will start.

"Get the kids together, go to the park and set it off," he said.

Okimura knows better than to set off fireworks in his neighborhood.

"I live in a multi-dwelling area," he said. "They’ve got signs posted all over the place."

Okimura is going to one of four designated parks in Dublin where he can safely set off fireworks.

Given the dry conditions outside and the worsening drought, Okimura said this might be the last fireworks show he can put on for his kids.

"After this year, it’s gonna be tougher," he said.

As fire dangers soar, so do the sales of fireworks at stands across the Bay. The dangers only increasing as we get closer to the Fourth of July and as more people start lighting off their celebratory shows. Thom Jensen reports.

Local fire officials continue to ask the public to be smart when it comes to how they celebrate.

"Even safe-and-sane fireworks demonstrates how quickly they can even start a fire in just small vegetation and quickly get out of control," Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Marshall Chris Bachman said as firefighters showed how discarded sparklers could spark a brush fire.

Any type of firework is illegal in Contra Costa County. Fire officials are urging people to call 1-833-885-2021 if they see anyone selling or setting off fireworks in the county.

"We are stretched thin if residents don’t listen and set off fireworks anyway and they start a bunch of fires," Bachman said.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District is prepared for what it anticipates will be a busy weekend.

Last Independence Day weekend, the county faced 93 grass, structure and other exterior fires from fireworks. Fire district spokesperson Steve Hill said that although there is no solid data on this year's illegal firework cases, their use began earlier this year and there have already been some substantial situations.

"I can tell you, we've responded to quite a few fires that have been either caused by fireworks or are suspected of being so caused," Hill said. "Most noteworthy this year is the Memorial Day Antioch fire that destroyed eight apartments and displaced 40 residents - it was started by a single firework thrown into grass behind the complex."

And in Napa, the county's Office of Emergency Services issued an advisory that using fireworks in county limits over the weekend might results in fines and criminal charges.

"Those using fireworks will be held responsible for the cost of fighting any fires that may occur as a result and could also be held criminally liable," said the advisory. "Please help our community stay safe over this 4th of July holiday by celebrating our nation's independence responsibly."

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is also encouraging limited use of fireworks not only because of the increased chances of fires, but also because of the unhealthy spike in air quality that the region sees annually. Though the bright colors and excessive smoke from safe and sane fireworks might be fun to watch, the district says this is what causes the region to exceed federal air quality standards.

Not to mention that those with respiratory issues, heart or lung disease, or other conditions face increased risks to the greater particle matter in the air.

"Many in the Bay Area are excited to celebrate the Fourth of July, especially since we missed the chance last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District. "This Fourth of July, it is critical we leave the fireworks to the professionals and enjoy local fireworks displays to help reduce air pollution and wildfire risks during these extreme drought conditions."

PG&E also urges residents to adhere to local protocol with fireworks, and if in a permissible area, residents should steer clear of power lines, structures or any flammable materials if they light fireworks. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to see public shows put on by professionals, utility officials said.

"While PG&E welcomes the return to holiday gatherings, the company urges its customers to put safety first and stay alert to potential dangers," the company said in a statement.

If a firework accident does occur, officials ask the public to immediately call 911.

Officials are going to be monitoring which cities have the most illegal fireworks Friday and Saturday. That’s going to dictate where they focus their resources on Sunday.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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