A River Islands man was severely injured on Saturday night when the illegal firework he went to pick up exploded in his hand, resulting in the loss of several fingers and extensive tissue damage.
According to Lathrop first responders, the man told authorities that he was lighting mortars on Fourth of July when one of them didn’t fire. When he went to pick up the ball, which is typically lit and dropped into tubes that propel them into the sky where they explode, it detonated in his hand and resulted in severe injuries.
The call was just one of many that Lathrop police and fire personnel responded to on Saturday night pertaining to illegal fireworks — which authorities claim were exacerbated this year by the cancellation of large-scale professional fireworks shows and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic that has forced many people indoors for extended periods of time.
“It has dynamically increased this year. I don’t know if that was because there weren’t fireworks shows or if people felt like they had to have their own,” said Lathrop Fire Chief Gene Neely. “We confiscated quite a bit of illegal fireworks before the weekend, but the sales for safe-and-sane were through the roof and people were still out there lighting illegal fireworks — we knew we weren’t going to catch all of them, but it was extensive this year.”
And for eight families in nearby Tracy, life will never be the same after a fire that investigators have said may be linked to fireworks destroyed their homes.
A total of eight residential units in Tracy, a combination of triplexes and individual homes, were engulfed after a fire started in grass in the semi-rural enclave near West Clover Road swept towards inhabited dwellings. The official cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but authorities are now saying that it could very well have been caused by fireworks.
While nobody was killed as a result of the fire, the Lathrop Manteca Fire District sent six engines when a call for mutual aid came in to help combat the blaze — requiring the Manteca Fire Department and off-duty personnel to respond and cover stations that were left unattended in Lathrop.
In the past, Neely has talked about ending the sale of all fireworks in the community to help combat the problem, but on Monday he said that the only way to prevent disaster from striking as it did in River Islands and in Tracy is for people to realize that fireworks aren’t something to underestimate or play around with.
“I think that people are going to have to look inside of themselves and do the right thing, to realize that there may be potentially life-changing consequences because of the use of a firework,” Neely said. “We have to really work hard at that to get people to understand the risk that they’re taking – that’s why we have professional people that handle these large shows that have gone through schooling and testing to make sure they know what they’re doing.
“Pyrotechnics is something that is done by professionals — that have not been drinking — and I think that we’re going to have to work harder to drive that point home to people.”