So far this year, California has already experienced a 26 percent increase in wildfire activity and a 58 percent increase in acres burned compared to last year, according to CAL FIRE.
A spark in the wrong place under the right circumstances could result in devastating consequences. That became clear last week with the Intanko Fire near Wheatland that destroyed one structure, burned close to 1,000 acres and nearly took out a housing development on Beale Air Force Base.
With Fourth of July just around the corner, fire personnel across the state will be on high alert considering California’s dry conditions mixed with the prevalence of fireworks.
Yuba County supervisors considered a fireworks ordinance last week ahead of the holiday. The urgency ordinance would’ve set clear penalties for violations, prohibited non Safe and Sane fireworks (already illegal in California), raised the purchase price of Safe and Sane fireworks to 21 years old, and would’ve prohibited the use of any fireworks throughout the county on red flag days designated by the National Weather Service.
Board Chairman Gary Bradford said the urgency ordinance failed to receive a four-fifths vote of approval. Prior to the vote, he received feedback from residents over concerns about the age restriction as well as from various nonprofits who believed the ordinance would impact their firework sales, which contributed to his decision to vote against the ordinance.
“Personally, I had a little concern about the red flag ban. I’d really prefer a geographical approach, because I think there are areas of the county where Safe and Sane shouldn’t be allowed at any time, the foothills being a perfect example,” Bradford said. “Other areas, like urban areas such as Plumas Lake, the risk of Safe and Sane on blacktop is pretty low, so I had a hard time supporting a countywide red flag warning ban. Another big concern was, not only the impact on celebrations, but the impact on nonprofits that depend on that funding.”
The proposal was tabled by the board but could be brought up again at a later date.
The city does not have a fireworks ordinance in place. Andrew Hall, fire inspector/fire engineer for the Marysville Fire Department, said Safe and Sane fireworks are allowed within city limits.
Hall said the department does not have the resources and staffing levels to conduct enforcement around the Fourth of July holiday, though they will confiscate any illegal fireworks they find and will report the responsible party to the state fire marshal who takes the investigation from there.
The department is in charge of inspecting fireworks booths throughout the city. This year, they are expected to have about 10 booths around the jurisdiction.
Hall encouraged residents to be safe this Fourth of July holiday and to practice common sense.
“If you want to partake in fireworks, please use the Safe and Sane ones, and use common sense with them,” he said. “If you are not 100 percent confident, please don’t use them. The city will also be doing another fireworks show on the Fourth, so people have that option to come and partake in, and the ballpark is doing a fireworks show on (July 3) as well.”
City Manager Jim Goodwin said Wheatland does not have a fireworks ordinance on the books. However, the city is a member of the Wheatland Fire Authority, he said, and the fire chief has statutory responsibilities with regard to fireworks vendors.
Public information officer Chuck Smith said Sutter County adopted a dangerous fireworks ordinance in 2019 that established penalties for illegal fireworks and outlined the agencies responsible for enforcement.
“Sutter County takes the use of illegal fireworks seriously and has a zero tolerance policy,” Smith said.
The ordinance calls for $1,000 fines and a misdemeanor charge for individuals found responsible for using illegal fireworks and/or the person who owns, rents, leases or otherwise has possession of the residence or property where dangerous fireworks are knowingly discharged. Agencies responsible for enforcement include code enforcement, the fire department, development services director, and the sheriff’s department.
During the Fourth of July weekend in 2020, the county issued a total of 46 firework citations in the unincorporated areas of the county and Live Oak.
Jesse Alexander, chief for the Yuba City Fire Department, said the city adopted an ordinance regarding dangerous fireworks in May 2017.
“The ordinance identified the legal statute regarding a dangerous firework and the prohibition of stated fireworks,” he said. “It identifies who can enforce the ordinance and how it is applied to the ‘responsible party.’ Finally, the ordinance identified the violations and penalties.”
Those found in violation of the ordinance face a misdemeanor charge and an administrative citation not to exceed $1,000 per violation.
“Last year’s illegal fireworks were significant and extremely dangerous,” Alexander said. “During the evening of July 4, 2020, Yuba City Fire Department responded to and mitigated two residential structure fires and seven vegetation fires that were caused or suspected to have been caused by illegal fireworks.”
The department administered four citations last year for illegal fireworks.
City Manager Aaron Palmer said the city modeled its fireworks ordinance implemented in January 2020 after the county’s, who it contracts with for fire and police services. He said the city felt it was necessary to be consistent with the county’s ordinance, which calls for $1,000 penalties per violation and a misdemeanor charge.
“The city needs a few more years of data to see how effective the ordinance is in curtailing illegal fireworks,” Palmer said.
In 2020, 11 citations were issued during the Fourth of July holiday in Live Oak.