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Will Manteca burn?
Severe drought, winds, & fireworks concern city
Manteca Fire Marshal Lantz Rey holds a pack of 100 firecrackers that are illegal in Manteca. Anyone caught with them can face a $1,000 fine and jail time. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Dry grass. Drought stressed landscaping. Shake roofs. Winds expected to be between 10 and 12 mph.

Couple those with fireworks — legal and otherwise — and the perfect storm exists this Fourth of July for higher than normal fires caused by pyrotechnics.

Careless handling of fireworks already send 83,900 people — mostly children and males between the ages of 15 and 24 —  to emergency rooms each year.

“Last year we were busy (with fire and medical calls),” Manteca Fire Marshal Lantz Rey told Manteca Rotarians meeting at Ernie’s on Thursday. “We expect it to be worse this year due to the drought.”

That’s because in February — normally a time of lush green grass — an 8-acre brush fire swept through nearby river bottom due to drought conditions. Earlier this month 75 acres burned in the dry river bottom bear Escalon. The time of year and size of the fires are not normal but happened due to four years of dry conditions.

“We’ve already had some big fires in California and its early in the fire season,” Rey said. Among those was one that covered 11 square miles and burned 40 acres in the high elevations of the eastern Sierra during the first week of February when snow instead of stressed vegetation would normally cover the ground.

Rey noted any attempt to ban all fireworks outright in California would be difficult given it is a $1 billion annual business in the state with roughly half the revenue collected going to non-profits.

Rey noted in Manteca the 15 groups that are permitted to sell fireworks will end up pocketing anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 on net proceeds by the time they shut down Saturday night.

He noted California banned certain fireworks — essentially ones that take flight or travel on the ground — due to the fact the state without drought conditions is typically dry in the summer.

Difficult to prosecute

those launching illegal

fireworks in SJ County

That said even legal safe and sane fireworks can be turned into illegal device when they are modified.

“It is extremely difficult to prosecute someone for shooting off illegal fireworks,” Rey said.

That’s because in San Joaquin County a firefighter or police officer actually has to witness the person firing them off. People could make citizen’s arrests by signing complaints but they almost always refuse to do so since it involves neighbors.

Police can and will seize illegal fireworks when they come across them.

Manteca Police last year seized 2,400 pounds including 2,000 pounds from one location in the Powers Tract neighborhood sandwiched between Manteca High and Spreckels Park where an individual was selling them.

Rey noted Manteca Fire adds staff for the Fourth of July and that Manteca Police have extra patrol units on the street. They are also doing joint patrols using lists of addresses logged that had illegal fireworks complaints in previous years to focus on repeat trouble spots.

Rey noted the biggest group for injuries is males between the ages of 15 and 24.

One individual in that age group, as an example, during a previous Manteca Fourth of July lit a “flower” safe and sane fireworks and that batted it with a tennis racquet and inadvertently sent it burning into their home where it started a fire.

The next biggest group for injuries is children.

Sparklers burn as

hot as arc welders

“Fireworks aren’t toys,” Rey said. A sparkler you hand a child burns at 1,200 degrees, the same temperature as an arc welder.”

He added the department gets an uptick of medical calls on the Fourth of July due primarily to elderly people jarred by fireworks. One example is an older person that had a cardiac arrest after seeing an illegal fireworks shoot over their fence and into their yard.

The fireworks sounds also pose problems for some veterans who served in war zones as well as pets.

Rey said it would be wise not to have someone who has been drinking or — based on injury statistics — males in the 15 to 24 age group set off fireworks.

“The fireworks are almost always safe if they are used according to the instructions,” Rey said. “The problem is nobody reads the instruction.”

He advised people to clean out their gutters as often embers will land on fire resistant roofs and then roll into gutters that are often filled with dried leaves Manteca has had several homes catch on fire years the years in such a manner.

‘”People with shake roofs should wet them down while everyone should make sure their grass — if allowed to die due to the drought — is no higher  than 4 inches. That’s because taller dry vegetation catches fire with more intensity and spreads quickly to trees, shrubs and nearby structures.

Also Rey said it doesn’t do just wetting fireworks when you are through.

“You should drown them,” Rey said.

Some people, sweep them into the gutter to let them cool off. He said that is fine but for extra assurance they should still eventually be soaked in a bucket of water for a time and then placed into garbage cans that are away from fences or any structure.