Contra Costa County firefighters are bracing for what could be their worst fire season ever. They say the unprecedented dry conditions combined with an apparent uptick in illegal fireworks could make the region a hotspot this summer.
A single firework set off a dry field on fire in Antioch last week and within minutes, it engulfed the backside of an apartment complex. Firefighters fear it could’ve been catastrophic and just a taste of what’s in store for the summer.
“We lost everything,” said fire victim Virginia Valencia. “I’m just blessed to still have my children still have a job.”
The 37-year-old still can’t believe everything she’s worked for is gone. The single mother says she and her boys had just finished their Memorial Day dinner when the sound of fireworks went off.
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“Next thing we know we had heard a loud boom. You could tell it was a firework shaking our doors and windows,” said Valencia.
Within minutes, smoke started pouring in through the vents.
“My 17-year-old Marco kicks the door open and says ‘mom get out get out the back of the apartment is on fire, get out now,’” said Valencia.
She had just enough time to grab her 1-year-old and a diaper bag and run outside before the family’s home of nine years went up in flames along with eight other units.
“It turned out it was one adult individual who threw a single firework at a pyrotechnic device called an M-100 into the grass behind the apartment complex,” said Steve Hill from the Contra Costa Fire District.
The fire department says that single act could have been catastrophic. The dry drought conditions across the county only need a spark to ignite a major wildfire.
“We’re at risk at any moment of experiencing dangerous and deadly wildfires,” said Hill.
The fire destroyed all of the family’s belongings and now, they are homeless. The medical assistant is urging everyone to be extra cautious this fire season as the danger is real.
“It’s unbelievable, all over one firework and somebody’s stupidity,” said Valencia. “I’m just trying to get on my feet. I’ve got to stay strong for my boys.”
Contra Costa Fire says this year is more dangerous than ever as the drought has created extremely dry and flammable conditions
“Fireworks generate sparks at an excessive heat rate that will very quickly ignite anything dry and flammable,” said Contra Costa Fire Chief Lewis Broschard. “The use of fireworks anywhere in this county is just unsafe. If you measure the amount of moisture in the fuels, the brush and trees are already at critical levels. We are extremely concerned about getting through the months of June and the July 4 holiday.”
Fireworks have caused a slew of other fires in Contra Costa County. Last month, a firework ignited a 15 acre grass fire in the Lakes neighborhood of Discovery Bay.
“It could have taken my home and a couple of others as well,” said Alisa Smith.
Then, a quarter acre fire near Diablo Valley College after teens threw a mortar out their car window.
And a neighborhood in Antioch got a scare when a fire erupted in some backyards after neighbors say they heard and smelled someone lighting fireworks
“It looked like it was going to come and engulf the house,” said Cheryl Best.