ONE SEEMINGLY INNOCENT and pretty sparkler handed to a child is all it takes to set a Bay Area hillside ablaze within minutes.
The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District demonstrated that Thursday in the parking lot of the Concord Pavilion. With the county’s wildland fire crew standing by, a firefighter lit a sparkler and dropped it on at least two spots in a small patch of hillside brush.
Even without much wind on a mildly warm morning, the weeds immediately ignited and and the fire started spreading. Most of the hillside was burning well before the district’s typical 6- to 8-minute response time.
“Dropping just one sparkler that may seem small or really cool can actually ignite a piece of grass and it spreads around and spreads beyond what you can control with the garden hose in your house,” said Deputy Chief Aaron McAlister.
The point was to spread the word by showing how fast they could spread a fire with just one supposedly “safe and sane” sparkler, frequently marketed for children.
Never mind the bigger, more explosive fireworks meant for home use on Fourth of July, a night that is usually the year’s busiest for fire departments in dry California.
Not if, but when there will be fires
McAlister told gathered media that this holiday weekend also coincides with summer’s first 100-degree temperatures.
“We will have fires that started in our community because of illegal fireworks, and we’ve already encountered that,” McAlister said. “We also know from experience we will have injuries, (some) that have already occurred this year to members of our community because of the use of illegal fireworks.”
“Dropping just one sparkler that may seem small or really cool can actually ignite a piece of grass and it spreads around and spreads beyond what you can control with the garden hose in your house.”ConFire Deputy Chief Aaron McAlister
A 14-year-old Pleasant Hill boy suffered “significant” injuries in April when an illegal firework he found at Pleasant Hill Middle School went off in his hand while walking a nearby trail.
The boy was taken to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland by ambulance for immediate treatment of his injuries.
“We’ve had an incident already in this county this year where a member of the community does not have all of their digits,” McAlister said.
McAlister said the county has already reached the driest part of the year, despite the record rain that was causing flooding a few months ago.
“The flip side of that is that fuels are heavier this year,” McAlister said. “Illegal fireworks will start fires and we need your help in reducing the use of illegal fireworks. It’s just not worth it.”
“We’ve had an incident already in this county this year where a member of the community does not have all of their digits.”ConFire Deputy Chief Aaron McAlister
Because July 4 is so busy for fire departments tackling fires, other functions like paramedic services are impacted.
“All of our resources will be drawn down where we don’t have engines available to go to additional calls for service, which can include a medical emergency at your residence,” McAlister said. “But we’re tied up somewhere else because of the use of illegal fireworks.”
There will be legal consequences
Assistant District Attorney Alana Mathews reiterated fireworks are illegal in Contra Costa County and violators will be prosecuted.
“The severity of the act and the conduct that’s involved determines the priority with prosecution, but we do want to remind everyone that this is an ordinance and that it’s an infraction to possess them, but it could also lead to more serious offenses,” Mathews said.
That could include accidentally starting fires that hurt or kill people, or accidentally burning a neighbor’s house down.
“Let’s leave it to the professionals at those professional firework shows and not encounter the hazards that come from the use of illegal fireworks,” McAlister said.
Members of the public can report the use of illegal fireworks in Contra Costa by calling the fire district’s fireworks hotline at 833-885-2021.