Summer fun and weather are here, with Independence Day celebrations just around the corner. Everyone knows what comes along with the Fourth of July — fireworks. In drought-riddled Northern California, this can be a daunting and downright terrifying time of year.
In these last few weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, 500 lbs of illegal fireworks have been seized in San Jose, several wildfires have been suspected to be caused by fireworks, and in Santa Rosa, police fielded over 260 firework-related calls in one week alone. Each day closer to the Fourth of July tends to result in an uptick of calls, complaints, and concerns about illegal and dangerous firework use, especially in areas across Sonoma County, which is officially in an extreme drought.
How Does Sonoma County Handle Fireworks?
Just recently, The Sonoma County Fire Marshal issued a warning that they have banned all fireworks in any unincorporated part of the county. If a person is found to be using fireworks, they could face fines, jail time, and be held liable for any damages that result. The crackdown is nothing out of the normal serious tone that is issued around this time of year, but carries a heavier weight with the knowledge that Sonoma County has declared a State of Emergency. The extreme drought conditions have resulted in serious fuel for wildfires, from tall grasses to trees in forest areas. The conditions mean there is a risk for rapidly spreading fires, with hotter weather leading to more flammable landscapes.
The Fire Marshal is relying on the local community and visitors to abide by these restrictions to ensure no wildfires are sparked on or around celebrations connected to Fourth of July fireworks. They encourage anyone wanting to keep up the traditional fireworks of the holiday to leave it to the professionals.
Will There Still be a Firework Show?
Despite the promise that the professionals are equipped to handle firework shows, some residents in the community aren’t fully convinced.
While other popular firework shows in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park have been canceled, Petaluma is still offering a fireworks show at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, as well as the Sonoma’s Hometown Fourth of July put on by the volunteer firefighters.
Even though there are some concerns about the professional shows and drought conditions, the Sonoma Valley Fire Department reiterated that they are keeping the safety of the community the top priority at a recent Sonoma City Council appearance. They provided reassurances that if any weather conditions change, making it unsafe for any reason, the show would be immediately shut down.
The local community, government, and firefighting professionals are all wrestling with the balance of maintaining community safety in wildfire season, as well as allowing the community to celebrate joyous this Fourth of July after an extremely difficult past year in 2020.
The event is truly one of tradition in the local community, paid for, produced and maintained by the Sonoma Volunteer Firefighters Association for nearly 50 years. It wouldn’t feel quite like Independence Day without any fireworks, and with proper safety measures responsibly taken, hopefully, there will be no wildfires sparked by such a beloved tradition.
More Funding Coming to Help with Prevention
Fireworks aside, the wildfire threat faced by residents in Sonoma County stretches far beyond the beginning of July and Independence Day celebrations. Cities all across the county have been scrambling to prepare for wildfire season, with dwindling budgets forcing some tough decisions. In early June, the Board of Supervisors announced an approval of more than $3.7 million for countywide projects aimed at reducing wildfire threats. This came as a massive boost for the county, allowing for increased vexation management projects which will ideally result in more defensible space and improved safety for residents and business owners.
These pivotal funds came from the PG&E settlement that was awarded due to the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires lawsuit. The grant program will now be utilized to focus efforts on addressing vegetation management concerns, clearing critical access roads, forming shaded fuel breaks, and even educating local residents on wildfire safety and presentation. With fire season already upon Sonoma County, this budget boost will provide extreme relief and relieve some of the pressure on communities dealing with such limited wildfire prevention budgets.
Though this is a great step, there are still hundreds of thousands of acres that will need clearing and more preventative measures that must be implemented. While the grant program will address some local-level budgetary needs, there are certainly many larger-scale projects that must be tackled across the state. Hopefully, this step in the right direction is an encouragement for other state agencies to reassess funding priorities and the urgency needed to address California’s growing wildfire problems.