If you're a Californian, you've probably seen news stories about how mishandled fireworks can cause fires on the Fourth of July. In 2014, for instance, a reveler set off fireworks in Yolo County, near the Monticello Dam, igniting a blaze that took days to put out.
The fire scorched 6,500 acres, injured five firefighters and drove dozens of people from their homes. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Americans start 18,000 fires per year due to mishandled fireworks.
Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, fire safety officials are warning: Don't let this be you.
For starters, authorities recommend that you avoid the dangers of setting off your own fireworks displays and opt instead for the elaborate, majestic spectacles planned by professionals. Check out this list of fireworks shows and other free events in the Bay Area this Fourth of July weekend.
Still not convinced? Consider the impact of fireworks on air pollution. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District warns that every year at this time, the smoke, dust and soot from fireworks add to unhealthy spikes in particulate matter.
“Consider your health and the health of your family before lighting personal fireworks,” said Sarah Zahedi, a public information officer at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “We really encourage people to enjoy bigger planned public fireworks instead.”
The agency also encourages people to avoid firing up the barbecue, lighting a campfire and other fire-related activities that all add to overall air pollution, which weighs on everyone.
Whether you're planning to light up some fireworks or simply enjoy them from afar, here are a few safety tips, compiled from experts around the state.
Text AlertSF to 888-777 to receive updates from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management on any emergencies, evacuations, construction and road closures this Fourth of July. If you see someone doing something dangerous, call 911. (Do not call, however, if you only hear fireworks — keep 911 lines open for actionable items.)
This year, for the first time ever, people from various San Francisco city agencies, including law enforcement, will be driving around San Francisco to disperse large groups using fireworks and confiscate them. The Oakland Police Department will have additional personnel on call for the holiday.
Know the Regulations in Your Community
Check this list to find out if fireworks are legal in your city this Fourth of July. California State Parks will be a popular destination for the weekend’s festivities, but fireworks are a big no-no. “We want to remind visitors that there are no fireworks allowed in State Parks units,” said information officer Adeline Yee. “If you are coming to visit the parks, leave your fireworks at home.”
Use Only Approved Fireworks
Although certain fireworks are legal in much of California, the state has a zero tolerance policy for both the sale and use of illegal fireworks — violators could face fines of up to $50,000 and jail time. Cal Fire issued this tweet as a lighthearted reminder:
#CALFIRE #4thofJuly pic.twitter.com/3rUsCkPB1j
— CAL FIRE SHU (@CALFIRESHU) July 1, 2019
Illegal fireworks include firecrackers, Roman candles, sky rockets, bottle rockets, aerial shells and other fireworks that move on the ground or in the air in an uncontrollable manner. Want to do a quick check? Look for the “safe and sane” label, a sign of fire marshal approval.
Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the San Francisco Fire Department, also pointed out that sparklers are illegal in San Francisco. “Sparklers burn at 1,800 degrees, which is [hot] enough to burn gold,” he said. “So if it can burn gold, you can imagine what it can do to your hand.”
Be Ready to Douse a Fire
Never point fireworks at yourself or another person, and never attempt to relight or fix a firework that won’t light. Designate a sober, responsible adult to light up the fireworks. Light one firework at a time, far away from dry grass, and have a bucket of water or a hose handy in case something goes wrong. “Wildfires have become a norm now,” said Yee. “We want to make sure [people] do anything they can to prevent any wildfires from happening.”
Also, this may sound obvious, but alcohol and fireworks do not mix well.
Consider Those With PTSD
Fireworks can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans or victims of gun violence. Last year, Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shootings, tweeted this plea to consider buying fireworks that produce less sound, and to notify others in your community of plans to use fireworks.
Leave Your Dogs Indoors
Dogs are afraid of fireworks. Keep your pet indoors in a safe and relaxing spot, away from doors or windows to reduce noise. Some experts even recommend playing classical music to calm your pooch during this scary night. Here are some tips.
Properly Dispose of Fireworks
At the end of the celebration, all used and misfired fireworks should be submerged in water for 15 minutes and wrapped in a plastic bag to keep them from drying up. Then toss them in the household trash. Any unused fireworks that have not expired should be kept in a cool, dry place away from children.