San Jose residents defy orders, light fireworks
Fireworks are illegal in most of Santa Clara County. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

    San Jose residents lit up the night sky on Independence Day, ignoring weeks of pleas and threats from city and county officials to not set off illegal fireworks.

    The full scope of the evening’s explosive festival is not available yet, but the first batch of data is a mixed bag.

    The San Jose Fire Department responded to 20 fireworks-related incidents on July 4. For the month leading up to the holiday, residents filed 1,644 online reports about fireworks.

    That’s significantly lower than the 6,601 filed for the same period in 2020, but San Jose Fire Department spokesperson Erica Ray said this year’s data is preliminary and subject to change. She added that no firework-related fatalities occurred on July 4, but the department doesn’t yet have details on injuries.

    “The breakdown of fireworks-related incidents still needs to be reviewed by staff and today is a city holiday,” Ray told San José Spotlight on Monday.

    The initial figures suggest that some San Jose residents listened to the weeks of warnings to not set off fireworks over the weekend. But some officials were discouraged that the educational campaign by multiple agencies seemed to miss a large chunk of the population.

    “I don’t think anyone took heed of the warnings on illegal fireworks,” said Matt Tuttle, San Jose fire captain and president of the San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 union.

    Tuttle told San José Spotlight that crews responded to several fires in Alviso, but he noted that firework use appeared fairly widespread throughout the city. Tuttle did not express much optimism that officials will have more luck curbing fireworks next year.

    “Perhaps a city sanctioned fireworks show could help, but people know the fines and know the risks but illegal fireworks still occur,” Tuttle said.

    Chelsea Burkett, a seasonal firefighter for the Cal Fire Santa Clara unit, did not have preliminary data on complaints. But she told San José Spotlight that county law enforcement only issued a couple citations. The big success was that firefighters were able to keep blazes contained to under .01 acres.

    “(It’s) amazing, especially compared to last year’s Fourth of July—it was quite a decrease in incidents,” Burkett said. Sanctioned shows in Morgan Hill and Gilroy may have helped curtail some illicit firework use, she said.

    Just how many fireworks went up in the sky on July 4 is unclear. But it was enough to cause a spike in air pollution in San Jose, worsening the air quality index from good to moderate overnight.

    Videos shared on Twitter show dozens of multi-colored explosions across the San Jose skyline. On social media, some residents and officials vented against the display.

    “The fireworks are completely out of control,” tweeted Assemblyman Ash Kalra. “There’s no sympathy for veterans or others with acute sensitivity to sounds of explosions. And, the pets & wildlife. This is sheer torture for the animals. I’ve never heard it this bad before and that says a lot being in San Jose.”

    Minh Ngo, a human rights and labor activist, posted a time-lapse video of fireworks flashing across San Jose as the sun set.

    “This went on for hours last night,” Ngo wrote in a tweet. “Apparently, all of San Jose missed the memo that we are in a drought & fire season and fireworks are illegal.”

    San Jose was not alone in breaking the rules this year. Residents reported illegal firework use throughout much of Northern California and the Bay Area, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. Fire departments in Contra Costa County reported that illegal fireworks may have started several fires.

    “It was similar to the unfortunate trend of the last several years—illegal fireworks definitely echoed through many neighborhoods,” Berlant said.

    Law enforcement made good on threats to punish people who broke firework ordinances. Ray reported that the San Jose Police Department issued 10 citations and seized approximately 550 pounds of fireworks. The SJPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Local departments can take weeks or months to submit their fireworks-related data to the state, Berlant said. But last year saw a higher than usual number of emergency calls for medical aid and fires due to fireworks.

    “It was definitely very similar to last year, as far as the amount of activity,” Berlant said.

    Law enforcement confiscated 280,000 pounds of fireworks statewide over the past fiscal year that ended June 30, Berlant said. In one instance, law enforcement seized 80,000 pounds in the course of a two-weekend period along a popular border route between California and Nevada. He added that the total amount seized will grow as local departments report in.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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