Scientists Issue Urgent Plea for Drought-Stricken States to ‘Skip the Fireworks’

Fireworks
Photo by Antonio Borillo

Nora Mishanec

San Francisco Chronicle

(MCT)

Jul. 2—As San Francisco and other Bay Area cities ready Fourth of July celebrations, more than 100 scientists urged the public to forgo potentially wildfire-sparking fireworks.

“We are gravely concerned about the potential for humans to accidentally start fires from fireworks and other activities by adding ignitions to this combination of historic drought, heat and dry vegetation,” the scientists wrote in an open letter published Wednesday on The Conversation, a website featuring academic commentary.

Citing the deepening drought threatening California and much of the West, the scientists urged the public to “skip the fireworks this July 4th” to avoid igniting wildfires in increasingly “flammable landscapes.”

The letter does not differentiate between amateur fireworks and sanctioned municipal fireworks shows, like those planned at San Francisco’s Pier 39 and elsewhere. But signatory Michael Gollner, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of UC Berkeley’s Fire Research Lab, said the plea is mainly referring to homemade fireworks, sparklers and other unregulated firework activities.

Such fireworks pose an “unnecessary” risk at a time of “incredibly high fire danger,” Gollner said. “This is a terrible time to be playing with fire.”

On average, a quarter of all fires ignited by fireworks occur on the Fourth of July, according to a multi-year study by the National Fire Protection Association.

Some Bay Area cities are already seeing an uptick in unregulated fireworks use. Fire crews in Vallejo suspect the four-alarm blaze that threatened homes and injured one firefighter late last month was caused by fireworks.

Authorities in Santa Clara County have vowed to crack down on Fourth of July revelers that ignore firework bans. San Mateo County announced a tenfold increase the fine for illegal fireworks.

Nora Mishanec is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: nora.mishanec@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @NMishanec

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