LATHROP – It’s not that Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely doesn’t want people to have a good time on Fourth of July.
He just doesn’t want to respond to an emergency call where somebody is missing a hand or to a house is burning to the ground.
And he’s afraid that’s exactly what’s going to happen if people keep lighting off illegal fireworks in the lead-up to the annual holiday – the byproduct of readily available and cheap aerial fireworks from Nevada and Arizona and other less-defined sources.
Lathrop’s City Council has allowed the use of safe-and-sane fireworks for several years and even provides the fire district with a special permit so that it can profit from their sales during the lead-up to the popular summer holiday.
But bottle rockets, mortars and ground explosives – the kinds of things that go boom – are on the rise. Neely is afraid that people aren’t concerned enough about where they’re getting them from and what can go wrong even if handled with care.
“There are some of these things that are made by reputable fireworks manufacturers like Phantom, and people go to Nevada and buy them and bring them back and light them off,” he said. “But most of the time they get them from a friend or somebody that they know with absolutely no knowledge of where they came from.
“That’s extremely dangerous when you’re talking about something that’s designed to explode. What’s going to happen when it goes off in your hand instead of the air?”
Three years ago a house in Raymus Village was nearly lost after fireworks ignited a backyard and sent flames upwards of a hundred feet into the night sky. The couple that owned the house wasn’t home at the time of the incident. Neighbors with garden hoses helped keep the flames at bay until fire personnel were able to arrive.
Had that fire started on the roof – where bottle rockets and the fallout from mortar shells are wont to land – there wouldn’t have been anything left when they finally did come home.
And shifting winds make it incredibly difficult for firefighters to pinpoint exactly where the culprits responsible for the impromptu light show are located. Even if they are able to, with any certainty, locate the house, those that live there typically claim that they aren’t the ones responsible and don’t have anything out for firefighters to seize.
“It’s frustrating because a lot of the time there’s nothing that we’re able to do,” Neely said. “You have people that are putting on shows for the entire neighborhood, and by the time you show up they’re either already done or they’ve put everything away.
“There’s only so much that we’re able to do.”
As for those who are following the legal route, Neely recommends that the display be put on by an adult that isn’t under the influence of any intoxicants and it be done so with safety in mind. A fire extinguisher and water should be nearby, and the remains of all fireworks should be submerged completely before being placed in any trash receptacle.
Fireworks should never be placed on an elevated position, like a ladder, regardless of how much more visible it might make them.
“Its basic common sense and basic safety,” he said. “People can have fun and do it without compromising it.”