Fireworks danger on display in ConFire demonstration

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With an “unprecedented” explosion of fireworks last year still leaving echoes, Contra Costa Fire Protection District crews showed Thursday just how quickly that a single firework can erupt into a disaster.

They hope the message hits home hard with those who may be inclined to set them off on the Fourth of July and the weeks leading up to it.

“They’re illegal, they’re dangerous, and they shouldn’t be used,” Fire Chief Lewis Broschard of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District said at the demonstration. “Period!”

Fire Chief Lewis Broschard of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District, urges residents not to use fireworks as the Fourth of July approaches. 

At the demonstration, a single safe and sane fountain firework — the type that sounds like rapid gunfire — lit an entire roof on fire. Such fireworks — including sparklers — can similarly torch a house, officials said, and it happens slowly but with destructive effects.

“That’s a common scenario, where it smolders for hours in a gutter or in a nook of a roof, and then all of a sudden it takes off,” fire spokesman Steve Hill said. “We’ll get a call, but in 3 or 4 minutes, that house can be a total loss.”

Here are three things you need to know about the dangers of fireworks as the Fourth of July approaches.

Fireworks are more dangerous than ever

Broschard said more people got their hands on more illegal fireworks than ever in 2020 — a result perhaps of all live shows being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic and excess supply ending up on the black market, authorities theorized. He also said he’s nervous about how people will respond to a Fourth without restrictions.

“The instances and the types of the use of illegal fireworks and the number of people using them was unprecedented” in 2020, Broschard said. He called the outbreak of illegal fireworks “prolific.”

A person using illegal fireworks caused a two-alarm fire that destroyed eight apartment units in Antioch and displaced 40 people at an Antioch apartment complex last month.

“It’s not just a problem in Contra Costa County,” he said. “This is a state-wide issue, and we are not immune.”

The conditions couldn’t be much more hazardous

Fire officials throughout the state agree that fire season has arrived earlier than ever and that vegetation already dry from drought conditions will only get more so as temperatures go up with the summer.

Broschard said his county will man its Emergency Operations Center on the Fourth of July and is hoping to avoid a repeat of a year ago, when it nearly ran out of resources because of all the calls.

Even scarier, some of the illegal fireworks being used were ones that Broschard said he’s rarely seen the public have.

“Some were almost commercial grade,” he said. “The kind that fly high in the air before they explode.”

Here’s what you can do to stop illegal fireworks

In Contra Costa County, all fireworks are illegal, including safe-and-sane fireworks such as sparklers.

“Fireworks are not legal anywhere in Contra Costa County and haven’t been for as long as I can remember,” Broschard said. “Help us help keep our communities safe by not doing them.”

In Contra Costa County, that includes safe-and-sane fireworks including sparklers.

This year, authorities will have an easier time holding those who use fireworks or who allow them to be used on their property to be held accountable. The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors this week passed a new ordinance that will allow the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to cite and fine property and boat owners who allow fireworks to be used on their property.

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In Richmond, a tip on those using fireworks could lead to $2,500 Fremont: Popular laundromat, dumpling house, hair shop, indefinitely closed after fire Tracy: Man found dead after garage fire Arrest made in fire that displaced 40 residents of an Antioch apartment complex Oakland: Seven children among those displaced after fire

The fines start at $100 and can get as high as $500 for a third violation in one year.

In Richmond, officials are taking it a step further, offering a $2,500 reward to anyone who reports a fireworks user who is later convicted or fined.

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