July 4 is around the corner, and with it comes the annual promise of sparklers, fire crackers and mortars lighting up the night sky.
Since many parts of the county allow fireworks in and around dry grasslands and wooded areas during the blistering summer month, users are encouraged to take safety precautions, especially in the wake of last year’s devastating fire season.
Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Richard Dickinson said residents should never light fireworks on a windy day. That district provides service to the northwest corner of the county, including the communities of Burson, Valley Springs, Wallace, Campo Seco, Milton, Rancho Calaveras, La Contenta and Jenny Lind.
“If it’s a windy day, don’t do it. It is not worth the chance of starting a fire,” he said, adding the warning that residents can be held liable for starting a wildfire. “What is considered safe and sane is still an incendiary device and if it gets in the grass, a spark can have serious consequences ... I want everyone to enjoy the Fourth of July, but choices have consequences and it gets out into the grass because you were too close to the vegetation and it becomes an issue, you can be held liable for starting a grass fire.”
Dickinson said historically, fireworks have not been a problem for the district, with the exception of last year, when three illegal fireworks-started fires broke out on the backside of the New Hogan Dam all at once. The three lakes in the county prohibit any firework use in recreation areas.
“We were lucky to get on it fast, but it could’ve been a different story had we not been able to get out there quickly,” Dickinson said.
Calaveras is the only county in the Mother Lode without a countywide fireworks ban in place. The only area that pyrotechnics are not permitted is the 225-square-mile Ebbetts Pass Fire District, which serves communities along Highway 4 between Forest Meadows and Tamarack.
“The prevented fire is the best action you could ever take,” Ebbetts Fire Chief Mike Johnson told the Enterprise June 20, explaining the rationale of the 2003 ordinance that banned fireworks in the district.
Nick Cassi, a battalion chief in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Calaveras-Tuolumne Unit, recommended that residents take advantage of the annual professional shows in the area, with reference to New Hogan Lake and Ironstone, rather than lighting their own fireworks.
For those that do decide to light on their own, Cassi shared some safety tips:
All fireworks must be “safe and sane,” as approved by the state fire marshal. Do not light illegal fireworks, as these have a greater chance to start a fire.
Light in large concrete areas, like a parking lot, where there is no chance of a spark getting into the dry vegetation.
Make sure the fireworks are fully extinguished before throwing them away.
Have a water source, such as a garden hose or five gallon bucket readily available.