As illegal fireworks are on the rise, San Jose hopes to crack down
Fireworks are illegal in San Jose and most of Santa Clara County. Photo by Katie Lauer.

While Fourth of July celebrations are canceled across the South Bay due to coronavirus restrictions – aside from Gilroy’s plans for an abnormally high display Saturday – some residents have started recreating traditions on their own – illegally.

Shooting off fireworks, bottle rockets, roman candles and firecrackers is illegal in San Jose and most of Santa Clara County, including those marked “safe and sane,” due to risk of fire and injuries.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks start an average of 19,500 fires each year. In 2019 alone, about 10,000 injuries and 12 deaths were connected to fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with 73 percent of those incidents occurring from June 21 to July 21.

Even sparklers, which might seem harmless even for children, can reach temperatures above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit when burned. They caused 900 of last year’s injuries.

Especially with residents stuck at home without professional shows to look forward to, local officials say the number of bangs, pops and whistles from fireworks have increased in recent weeks.

“There does appear to be an increase in illegal fireworks activity this year,” San Jose Fire Deputy Chief Hector Estrada said in a news release. “This is not limited to San Jose. We are hearing of increases throughout the Bay Area and across the nation.”

As part of its annual “Just Not Worth It” campaign, San Jose is asking residents to help report illegal fireworks online by filling out a complaint form with photos, locations and names of those involved in firework activities, instead of solely complaining on NextDoor, Facebook or at home. Reports filed in 2019 resulted in two arrests, one field citation and seven online citations.

If an online form isn’t an accessible option, residents can call 311 or 408-535-5600, while reserving 911 for emergencies, such as an active fire.

Penalties of using fireworks will include first-time fines between $500 and $10,000, enforced by police officers, park rangers, code enforcement officers and some fire officials. Those who sell fireworks can be fined up to $50,000 with jail time.

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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