For one day a year, freedom and fireworks are synonymous. But on this Fourth of July, in response to an elevated fire risk caused by record drought, y’all are going to have to ’Merica in other ways.
Even though, July 4 comes at the peak of California’s annual fire season, the risk is even higher this year as the state heads into a fifth year of record drought.
“California is made up of an ecosystem that is a fire environment. Fire is a part of the environment,” Cal Fire’s San Luis Obispo County Fire Chief Robert Lewin said. Lewin warns that because everything is especially dry, even the so-called “safe and sane” fireworks, which are allowed in some parts of the county, aren’t a good idea.
“With this unprecedented drought and record-low fuel moistures, this is not the time to be playing with fire, whether they’re safe and sane fireworks or illegal fireworks,” Lewin said.
While the SLO County’s curbed the use of personal fireworks over the years, extra precautions will be taken this year.
In most places, fireworks are already banned. In SLO County, the smaller-scale, “safe and sane” fireworks—which generally means those that don’t fly or explode—are only allowed in San Miguel, Templeton, Oceano, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Morro Bay. All other cities don’t even allow safe and sane fireworks, and Cal Fire’s banned them in its jurisdiction, which covers state parks and all unincorporated areas of the county.
This year, Cal Fire’s also ramping up enforcement. Lewin told New Times that they’re bringing in extra Cal Fire law enforcement officers to patrol Cayucos and Pismo Beach—where safe and sane fireworks aren’t allowed, even though the common sight of sparklers and smoke might suggest they were allowed in recent years. The 15 CalFire officers will also be patrolling Oceano Dunes State Park, lakes and campsites, and other areas that are particularly prone to fire danger. Local law enforcement agencies will be doing the same in their respective jurisdictions.
Lewin said that additional engines and their crews will be on duty, more dispatchers will be staffed, and more paramedics will be assigned to high-activity areas.
There’s an extra catch—not only is the possession and use of illegal fireworks, well, illegal, but if fireworks are deemed the cause of a fire, then the person responsible can be on the hook to pay for property damages and the “cost recovery” associated with fighting that fire.
Fewer professional fireworks shows will be lighting up the sky, as well. The annual demonstration in Cambria was cancelled. Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller made the call in response to heightened fire risk concerns in the tree-lined community.
“It was a controversial decision at first, but the American Legion that sponsors the show here understood the rationale, and they jumped in with full support of my decision,” Miller said.
The annual show in Paso Robles won’t be happening this year either, but that’s not necessarily out of fire concern. Paso Robles Emergency Services Chief Ken Johnson told New Times that the group that puts on the show every year has had financial problems and was unable to continue the tradition this year, as fireworks are rather expensive.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay