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Fireworks and Wildfire Danger

As Americans emerge from COVID-19 closures to celebrate Independence Day, there’s growing concern about 4th of July fireworks sparking wildfires. While many revelers will opt to go see a professional firework show, others will light up their own, sometimes illegal, fireworks, which pose a severe risk for a fire. A recent report by The Mercury News is highlighting the dangers associated with fireworks this 4th of July in what officials are describing as a “perfect storm” for a wildfire as the West continues experiencing the worst drought conditions in more than a century.

As the holiday inches closer, the sound of fireworks grows louder and louder as the night sky lights up with illegal fireworks. The Mercury News reports that across the Bay Area, communities are giving law enforcement a bit more oversight and hiking fines for anyone setting off fireworks. A new ordinance in Contra Costa County will allow law enforcement to cite property or boat owners who let fireworks be used on their property in the unincorporated part of the county for up to $500. San Mateo county will also be imposing a $1,000 fine on anyone hosting a firework display. The new citations come after last year’s 4th of July celebrations amidst a pandemic, which fire officials from throughout the state claim were as bad as they can remember. City officials across the Bay Area are urging people to watch professional fireworks shows as opposed to lighting up their own to minimize wildfire risk.

According to data from a 2020 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report, an estimated 19,500 fires started by fireworks were reported to local fire departments in the US during 2018. These fires caused five civilian deaths, 46 civilian injuries, and $105 million in direct property damage. Brush, grass, or forest fires accounted for 59 percent of reported fires started by fireworks in 2014–2018. Looking at just the Fourth of July, half of the reported fires on that day were started by fireworks.

Last year, the El Dorado Fire dubbed the “Gender Reveal Fire”, was started by a firework, and burned over 22,000 acres in the Oak Glen / Yucaipa Ridge area and within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest over 23 days. The fire forced the evacuations of Oak Glen, north Yucaipa, Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, and Angelus Oaks communities. There were 4 residences damaged, 5 residences destroyed along with 15 other structures destroyed, as well as one firefighter fatality. The wildfire put gender reveal parties in the spotlight, as their popularity continues to rise. These parties are held during pregnancy to reveal the gender of the expected child, and some couples choose to announce the gender by using pink or blue smoke fireworks. But with the historic drought the West continues to face, fire officials continue to warn about the fire risk involved with the use of pyrotechnic devices.

Some tips Cal Fire outlines to help prevent a fire from starting this 4th of July include:

  • Using only State Fire Marshal approved fireworks
  • Always having an adult present
  • Only using fireworks outdoors
  • Never use fireworks near dry grass or other flammable materials
  • Only light one firework at a time

It is important to remember that even if some of them are legal, fireworks will increase the potential for wildfire ignitions due to the hot and dry conditions the state is experiencing, and perhaps it is best to leave it to professionals to minimize any dangers during the holiday weekend.