ILLEGAL FIREWORKS SPARK FIRES AND A BARRAGE OF COMPLAINTS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Screenshot of KCAL video showing llegal fireworks across Los Angeles

July 8, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – With fireworks shows cancelled or not allowing on-site viewing due to COVID-19, use of illegal fireworks skyrocketed across southern California. This video by KCAL shows a panorama of illegal fireworks in Los Angeles, where an illegal fireworks display burned down eight apartments and injured five people, CBS reported.

In a normal year, July 4th fireworks cause 19,000 fires nationwide. But this year, residents across San Diego County and elsewhere say the problem was far worse.

San Miguel Fire Department, in response to an ECM records request, confirms their firefighters were dispatched to halt three fires caused by fireworks. One near Campo and Millar Ranch roads burned down 10 trees near a wildlife preserve and church.  Another firecracker ignited a neighbor’s backyard on Redfield Street. A third was spotted in a Spring Valley canyon behind Barcelona Street.

From this editor’s home, illegal fireworks resembling a professional show could be seen lighting up the night sky on the fourth July, with loud booms that at times sounded like cannon fire coming from Spring Valley/Casa de Oro areas. Illegal fireworks could also be heard across Spring Valley, La Mesa, El Cajon and San Diego.

Eleanor Tamayo posted on Facebook that in her west La Mesa neighborhood, illegal fireworks were set off  “at least three places on my street and some on the surrounding streets. Some are so close and loud that my windows shake.” She complained of “outrageously loud booms” adding, “All the neighborhood pups are going crazy.” Although neighbors called police over a 90-minute period, she stated, “not one LMPD car has been around.”

Many other residents across East County also voiced complaints that calls to the Sheriff or local police departments were mostly ineffective; without an address or an officer witnessing the illegal display, catching violators can be challenging and the sheer volume of callls made it impossible to respond to them all.

Yet some residents voiced approval of the illegal shows and complained about their neighbors objecting.  “It’s just fireworks for one night out of the year…with everything going on can we at least enjoy a little bit of our normal???” one wrote on Next Door.

Others noted that some illegally fireworks this year aimed to show support for Black Lives Matter by honoring victims of police violence.

But dozens of others on the Next Door online discussion group, Facebook and other social media sites voiced fears over fireworks causing fires, amid high-fire-danger weather conditions per the National Weather Service.

Some said that the loud bangs triggered post-traumatic stress syndrome in veterans, as well as refugees who have fled war-torn areas Others posted that they were unable to sleep with fireworks continuing past 1 a.m. Many residents said their dogs and cats were frightened by the illegal fireworks on multiple nights.

One stated that she witnessed a dog that escaped in a panic and run in front of a car in Spring Valley; it was struck and killed.

In Los Angeles, the fireworks also caused fine-particle pollution levels to skyrocket, prompting hazardous air ratings by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Shooting off any fireworks is illegal in San Diego County, except for licensed professional shows, where precautions are taken to assure safety, such as providing ample space away from combustible materials, watering down surrounding areas, and having equipment and manpower to douse fires on hand.

Do-it-yourself fireworks are also dangerous. Each year, 9,.000 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by fireworks, such as burns and loss of fingers, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Fortunately,Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s emergency room did not treat any patients with fireworks-related injuries, according to hospital spokesman Bruce Hartman.

This 4th of July, some residents also complained of illegal gunfire fired off by some holiday celebrants, prompting some residents to take cover indoors. A Rancho San Diego Sheriff's deputy recently confirmed to ECM's editor that this has been an increasing problem across East County, albeit an illegal and potentially dangerous one for neighbors. 

The bullet shown at left was found on the driveway of a Mt. Helix home; it's believed to have been fired by revelers during a prior holiday celebration and landed just a few feet from a homeowner's front window.

Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.

East County Magazine thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help  sustain reporting on impacts of the pandemic and issues affecting vulnerable local populations and rural communities. Learn more at #FacebookJournalismProject. You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.