With Independence Day approaching, East County fire and police departments are working together to spread the word about the dangers of fireworks.
Possession and use of all fireworks are banned in Contra Costa County and any person who starts a fire from fireworks – even accidentally – can be held liable for the fire suppression costs as well as property damage costs.
Despite these clear guidelines, Lt. Paul Beard of the Oakley Police Department (OPD) said the city has seen a spike in complaints this year.
“Here in Oakley, we are seeing our firework complaints start much earlier in the year, way before the Fourth of July week,” said Beard. “My personal suspicion is people are tired of not having activities to do because of COVID restrictions, so they are finding ways to entertain themselves.”
Beard said for the first 24 days of June in 2019, his department received 15 fireworks complaints. For the same period this year, they have received 226 complaints.
“The quantity of the fireworks is seemingly larger than in years past,” he noted. “We do recognize it to be a problem . . . along with a fire hazard.”
The department has sent a drone up three different times this month, with trained and certified OPD volunteers on the ground, to spot violators. Beard said the operation was successful and multiple citations were issued. In Oakley, a fireworks violation citation can cost up to $1,000.
Oakley also has a system set up for residents to confidentially email the department, alerting officers of fireworks being fired. In these cases, Beard does what he calls a “knock and talk,” going to the identified homes and urging residents to refrain from using fireworks.
Steve Aubert of East Contra Costa Fire Protection (ECCFPD) said his department has used social media to spread the word about the safety and fire hazards created by fireworks. He asks residents to have a safe and fun Fourth of July without requiring an emergency response team visit.
“This will be the first year the fire district has the ability to issue a citation for the illegal fireworks,” he said. “Not only are they a fire hazard, with all the dry vegetation, but even the “safe and sane” ones have been known to burn people’s skin, burn people’s clothes and go off accidentally when they aren’t used properly.”
Brentwood fireworks violations can result in fines up to $1,300 per incident, or $5,000 and imprisonment for fireworks that leave the ground or explode. In a press release issued by the Brentwood Police Department, residents are reminded that firing guns into the air is also illegal.
“Bullets fired into the air return at some point and descend at approximately 300 to 400 feet per second, which poses a high danger because it can penetrate roofs and cause damage to property and unwary residents,” the release stated. “Statistics show that fireworks and celebratory gunfire seriously injure thousands of people annually.”
In unincorporated parts of East County, such as Discovery Bay and Bethel Island, the Contra Costa County sheriff’s office will have two to three extra patrol vehicles each evening on the nights surrounding July 4.
“We’ve been having a big problem in the Discovery Bay area, so our resident deputies have been driving around, contacting people, just reminding folks the fireworks are illegal,” said Lt. Mark Johnson of the sheriff’s Delta Station.
He said people caught with fireworks could receive a citation or get arrested, depending on the type and quantity of the fireworks in their possession.
“We are really focusing on the big stuff, because that’s what is dangerous,” he said. “Each situation will be a little bit different, but I do plan on issuing citations to the folks we catch with the fireworks.”
Oakley residents can report violations by emailing OPD@ci.oakley.ca.us or calling the nonemergency dispatch line at 925-625-8855.
ECCFPD can be reached at 925-634-3400. For more information, visit www.eccfpd.org.
Brentwood residents can contact the Brentwood Police nonemergency dispatch line at 925-809-7911.
The sheriff’s office nonemergency dispatch can be reached at 925-646-2441.