With 100 percent of California in a state of severe drought, officials are extremely concerned about the potential fire risk that 4th of July fireworks pose. While large firework displays are highly regulated, the family fun that comes from a home show can go from patriotic to problematic in a heartbeat. In addition to the potential for personal injury that the casual use of fireworks poses, with record low precipitation levels across the state, parched areas of vegetation and timberland present a potentially deadly tinderbox for an errant firework spark that could set off a raging wildfire.
Even though California received some significant rainfall in the spring, it did little to ameliorate drought conditions. Rather, the wet weather served to promote the growth of grass and other vegetation and this has resulted in dry soil rich with “fine fuel crops” that could make the fire season a particularly prolific one. According to Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant, drought conditions in California are so dry, “even the tiniest spark makes it much easier for fire to grow.”
Firefighters in the Napa Valley area of California are currently fighting the Butts Fire, that started on July 1 and has already burned over 4,300 acres, threatens 380 structures and is consuming state resources with 1,067 fire personnel, 132 engines, four air tankers, six helicopters and 18 bulldozers on the scene. According to Cal Fire, “Firefighters are working in extreme conditions, high heat, humidity, with the potential for erratic winds.” This fire comes on the heels of several other significant fires in June of this year.
When it comes to setting off fireworks, Dennis Mathisen from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says, “All it takes is one spark and off to the races we go.” Because of both the personal danger that exploding fireworks present as well as their potential to cause wildfires, many cities in California ban the purchase or use of any type of firework. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “240 people on average go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around the July 4th holiday.”
However, some cities do have ordinances that allow the sale of what are termed, “Safe and Sane” fireworks. These types of fireworks do not have projectile capabilities in that they stay on the ground and they do not explode. Examples include fireworks such as certain sparklers, smokebombs, snakes, fountains, noisemakers, pinwheels and poppers. Examples of illegal fireworks include Cherry Bombs, M80’s, Sky Rockets, Bottle Rockets, Roman Candles and firecrackers.
Despite the current severe drought conditions in California, there is no doubt that American celebrations of 4th of July will include fireworks of the home show variety. Given the high potential for wildfires, fire authorities are concerned about both the regulated and unregulated use of fireworks. In many California cities, fireworks of any kind are illegal and those caught using them face a stiff fine. While in some cities, “Safe and Sane” fireworks are permitted, it is strongly suggested that people follow all of the safety rules, exercise extreme caution, and understand that even the slightest spark could start a raging wildfire because of the severe drought conditions.
By Alana Marie Burke