An extra dry year means the risk of accidental fires is higher than ever this Fourth of July weekend, Merced County fire officials warned.
“The fact is, we just don’t have the precipitation and we are right in the beginning of fire season,” said Mark Lawson, fire chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We know for a fact we’ll have some unwanted fires, but we’re just trying to educate citizens.”
Coming off the third dry year in a row, Lawson said, fire officials are on high alert this weekend and have ramped up prevention and education efforts.
Since dry fields are the perfect ingredient for a fire, Lawson said Cal Fire has been working with homeowners to abate overgrown weeds since April. Fire-prevention materials were handed out at county schools, fire stations and at fireworks stands, the chief added.
The department is also staffing extra units in anticipation of a dry Fourth of July holiday. Last year, there were less than a dozen fires in Merced County’s unincorporated areas, Lawson said.
“My ultimate goal would be to have no fireworks-related fires,” Lawson said.
Fire officials urge residents to carefully follow instructions on the labels of fireworks, keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby, never light sparklers indoors and ensure the fireworks are legal.
Legal fireworks will always have an approval sticker from the state fire marshal on their labels.
“If it does not have that, then it is not allowed for use in California,” said Merced County Fire Marshal Hank Moore. “The illegal ones are typically those that go in the air.
“They’re dangerous because they go up in the air and you don’t know where it’s going to land,” he added, “It could land on dry land or a bush, and could contribute to additional fires.”
Merced County last year adopted an ordinance allowing the sale and use of safe-and-sane fireworks in unincorporated communities. The new law helped regulate fireworks and reduced the amount of illegal ones, fire officials said.
Penalties for using illegal fireworks range from $1,000 to up to $3,000. Residents should report illegal fireworks by calling 911, Lawson said.
Pyrotechnics can also pose several dangers to pets, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Four-legged family members should be kept inside during fireworks, wear proper identification tags with a name and phone number and kept away from the home-lit fireworks.