Record-breaking heat, low precipitation and dry brush will tango with fireworks this Fourth of July, creating a dangerous combination that will have fire departments throughout the Bay Area on alert.
Many local cities are deploying extra fire crews and patrols throughout the holiday weekend whether or not fireworks are legal in their jurisdictions as the heat wave is expected to continue Thursday before cooling down.
"Fire danger will be really high," said Logan Johnson, a meteorologist at the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area division of the National Weather Service. "Precipitation has been really low from the start of the year. With the air being so dry, fires will spread a lot faster."
Fireworks just add to that fire hazard. Cal Fire says crews statewide respond to almost 500 fireworks-related fires every year between late June and early July.
Statewide, 295 communities permit the sale and use of "safe and sane" fireworks for Independence Day, but illegal fireworks are a problem in many cities.
Gilroy, San Bruno, Petaluma and Union City are among the 15 cities in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County that permit the use of state-approved fireworks. These "safe and sane" fireworks stay on the ground, don't explode and burn at lower rates than illegal fireworks, like bottle rockets and Roman candles.
In all other cities, including San Jose, any kind of fireworks are illegal.
"It is unlawful for anyone to possess, store, sell, or use any type of firework" in San Jose, said Capt. Cleo Doss, public information officer for the San Jose Fire Department. "This includes sparklers and 'safe and sane' fireworks. If you are caught, you will be cited with the possibility of having to appear in court."
Fireworks that fly in the air, illegal throughout the state, could set homes on fire by landing in roofs or gutters; even fireworks designated "safe and sane" can be dangerous if not used properly.
"People think of sparklers as harmless," Doss said, citing a popular firework permitted for use in some communities. "But those things burn at 1,200 degrees, enough for a third-degree burn."
In San Jose, four extra brush control companies will join engine companies in anticipation of fireworks-related incidents throughout the weekend.
In some cities that allow the sale of fireworks like Gilroy and Pacifica, fees and additional taxes levied by municipalities pay for extra police and fire personnel.
"We staff extra fire apparatus in addition to the normal complement," said Clyde Preston, fire safety inspector for the North County Fire Department in San Mateo County. Even so, when celebrating with fireworks, he urges precautions to reduce the risk of injury or damage.
"Do it on a noncombustible surface, like on a driveway or an asphalt street. Make sure you've cut all the dry weeds around your house. Have a garden hose nearby or a bucket of water," he said. "Always follow the manufacturer's instructions."
Officials agree, however, that the safest way to celebrate on the Fourth is to not play with fireworks at all.
"There are a lot of venues providing public displays of fireworks," Doss said. "Leave the fireworks alone and let the professionals handle it.
Contact Edward Ngai at 408-920-5064.
Contra Costa County
San Francisco County
San Mateo County
Santa Clara County
Santa Cruz County
Source: California Fireworks Newswire