Drought won’t stop fireworks sales

Officials urge caution with safe and sane fireworks; express concern about illegal explosives

Despite the ongoing, four-year California drought and state-mandated water restrictions, this year’s 4th of July looks to be business as usual for Hollister, which is one of 296 communities where state-approved fireworks can be used.

“Fireworks are safe when used properly and they are legal in the city,” said Mayor Ignacio Valazquez. “However, anyone caught with or using illegal fireworks will face heavy fines.”

Hollister City Manager William Avera said the number of booths selling fireworks in the city has remained consistent for more than 20 years.

“It takes a ton of hours to run the booths, usually by volunteers,” he said. “Most of the nonprofits understand that if you saturate the coverage of the city it just spreads the money too thin. After all, there’s only so much fireworks dollars spent. Some booths do better than others just based on location. And some organization do better because there’s more support for them. We try not to saturate the market so the people who are out there get the benefit.”

He said the number of booths was originally established based on the number of households and then the number was capped at 12.

Avera said the organizations that have fireworks booths included: Abundant Foursquare Church; Baler Band Boosters; Baler Football Boosters; Apostolic Full Gospel Faith Church of Christ; New Life Fellowship Church; Community Food Bank; Hollister Downtown Association; Hollister Elks Lodge #1436; Hollister Exchange Club; Hollister Little League; Hollister Youth Football & Cheer; and Nan Pipestem Wildlife Rehab Center.

Sales from fireworks help many of the organization accomplish their missions. “We have a booth in the Safeway parking lot and sales will officially start at noon, June 27,” said Jennifer Morcate, office manager for the Hollister Downtown Association. “Fireworks sales help fund all of the activities that HDA promotes, such as the Lights on Celebration, Downtown Health Walk and other events, along with promoting downtown Hollister.”

“Many people are using illegal fireworks in every community, because of the sheer volume of illegal product available and their accessibility,” according to the California Fireworks Safety & Education Program website, “but also, because in many communities, they don't fear any repercussion or consequences for their illegal actions.”

Also, according to the state agency website: “Large, out-of-state operations are shipping massive quantities of aerial displays and exploding items directly into California using independent truckers or via the internet. The use of illegal bottle rockets and firecrackers are dwarfed by the heavy importation and use of aerial shells rivaling or surpassing those used at most public fireworks displays.”

Hollister’s interim fire chief, Bill Garringer, said the fire department will be on high alert over the 4th of July weekend because of the drought conditions, fireworks and the biker rally.

“We’re staffing extra people and though we’re prepared we are nervous about it,” he said. “It’s awfully dry out there. We had our weed abatement people out there mowing the empty lots and we’re ready for it, but all it takes is a little wind and a spark in those fields and it will be off and running and we’ll be chasing it.”

He said Cal Fire and the city are fully staffed. “We’ll probably be putting two extra engines in service,” he said. “We’re concerned because even though people are buying safe and sane fireworks we need them to have a bucket of water on hand to put the fireworks in after they’re used or use them anywhere near dry vegetation. They should do it out in front of their homes with a garden hose handy.”

He added that he isn’t worried so much about the safe-and-sane fireworks as he is about the illegal ones. “We’re concerned about anything that gets shot up into the air," Garringer said. "All those are illegal. We don’t have enough people to chase all those down because we’ll be busy going to calls and the police will be in the same boat with the rally going on.”

Garringer said if people see their neighbors shooting fireworks up into the air they should tell them to stop because what goes up has to come down. “They land on roofs and in fields and start fires. There isn’t any way to stop all of it, but we try to stop as much as we can. We will confiscate everything they spent their money on they will get a ticket and a fine of about $1,000.”

Those two extra engine companies include EMT-qualified personnel. He said extra EMTs will be at the rally on bicycles. “They will have EMT equipment with them and will take care of the rally part of it. And because of the drought we’ll be responding throughout the county, because we’re the county part of it, as well.”

Garringer was fire chief for six years, 2001 to 2007, and he said, historically, many roof fires and injuries are the result of bottle rockets. “They’re like little blow torches when they land on wood shingle roofs,” he said. “Those things will shoot sideways and they’re very dangerous because they’re unpredictable.”

He also warned that those brilliant sparklers that are often handed to the youngest members of the family are not as harmless as some may think. “They burn at over 1,000 degrees,” he said. “Kids will touch the hot metal after the sparkler goes out and they will be burned. And you see people throw them in the air. They’re meant to be held and when it’s done drop it into a bucket of water. When they start throwing them, that’s when problems happen.”

While Hollister will be celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks, not every city in California is so fortunate. Because of severe drought conditions, the City of Cupertino cancelled the town’s annual fireworks display, according to an NBC News story.

KGO TV reported June 23 that “…safe-and-sane fireworks can be used in just 15 cities in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County. But no matter where you live, the crackdown on illegal fireworks is tougher than ever due to the severe drought.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]