By Raychel Stewart
Signal Staff Writer
Along with barbecues and pie, fireworks are considered to be a staple for summer holidays like the Fourth of July, but they can lead to injuries and wildfires if not handled properly.
Fireworks cause an average of 1,000 injuries a year across the country, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department officials, and lead to nearly 800 wildfires in California.
“The No. 1 safety message we have is to leave fireworks to the professionals,” said Daniel Berlant, chief of wildfire planning and fire engineering and investigations with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We advise people to go to firework displays — that’s the safest way to celebrate those holidays where fireworks are popular.”
Safe and sane fireworks can be an enjoyable way to celebrate holidays, but only if handled properly to prevent injuries and fires.
The first step people should take to ensure safe handling of fireworks is to check that it is considered safe and sane, Berlant said. A seal from the State Fire Marshal’s Office would be printed on the firework labeling it as safe and sane. If the firework doesn’t have a seal, it was not approved by the fire marshal’s office, and would be considered illegal.
The second step, said Jonathan Matheny, public information officer with the LA County Fire Department said, is to read the directions of the firework. And once it is lit, move away quickly and ensure no one is within 10 feet.
To prevent fire, ensure there is a water source nearby, Matheny said, adding that a bucket of water is ideal in order for fireworks to be submerged in water completely.
“Make sure there’s a water source nearby,” Matheny said. “The best way to dispose of fireworks is to put them in a bucket of water first, and once they’re drenched, throw them away. Just spraying the fireworks down with a water hose isn’t enough. It needs to be submerged for a certain amount of time to be completely cooled.”
Matheny explained that using only a water hose to cool down fireworks can result in one area maintaining a high heat level, and disposing of the firework before being completely cooled can lead to a fire.
People should also be aware of any dry brush or structures nearby, keeping fireworks away at a 10- to 20-foot circumference, Berlant said. “The smallest spark can ignite a grass fire that quickly becomes a problem,” he said.
Adults should always be present while fireworks are being set off, Berlant said, and children shouldn’t be in possession of any type of firework. He also added pets should be monitored at all times as they might be curious about the firework and go near it while it is lit.
In all of L.A. County, fireworks of any kind are considered illegal, even fireworks labeled “safe and sane.”
“Some cities allow for safe and sane fireworks, but fireworks of any kind are illegal in unincorporated areas of the county,” said Matheny. “Those violations carry heavy fines of up to $1,000 and a year sentence in county jail.”
Matheny added lighting off explosives that can be mistaken as a firework, such as an M-80, would result in a felony charge, since it is more dangerous than a traditional firework and categorized as an explosive.
A growing concern has been the number of wildfires which have been ignited through fireworks, especially as the state enters a drought. According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of five wildfires in the country between 2014 and 2018 were ignited from fireworks, and nine out of 10 fires were ignited outdoors.
The import of illegal fireworks into the state has become an issue the department of forestry and fire protection is working to prevent, Berlant said, adding there has been an uptick in the using of illegal fireworks since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Local officials have called for help from federal agencies with preventing illegal fireworks to enter Los Angeles County, stating as Independence Day approaches, the number of illegal fireworks to enter the state increases.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the SCV, sent a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the United States Customs and Boarder Protection in April to prevent the import of illegal fireworks to the county.
“Our office shares the concern of our constituents of the significant fire danger this poses,” Barger said in the letter, also highlighting concerns of wildfires as the state enter a drought.
Berlant added the department of forestry and fire protection has taken a zero-tolerance policy on illegal fireworks and has developed a taskforce to prevent the selling and usage of them.
“The fines and punishments for using illegal fireworks are severe,” he said. “The best way to celebrate these holidays is to do it legally and safely so no one is hurt. Err on the side of caution.”