An explosive July 4 in Contra Costa County

An explosive July 4 in Contra Costa County
Photos of illegal fireworks being set off in Richmond on July 4, 2020, by Mike Kinney

By Mike Kinney

Data isn’t required to convince Richmond residents that illegal fireworks use ran rampant on July 4. They lit up the night sky across the city. You didn’t just hear them, you also felt their impact.

We do have some data and it shouldn’t be surprising. During the six-hour period from 6 p.m. to midnight last night, Richmond police dispatch received 270 calls from residents about the illegal fireworks, police said. The previous night, dispatchers received 117 calls from 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

By comparison, throughout the month of June, during which the city was seeing a large increase in illegal fireworks use over previous years, RPD responded to 378 calls involving illegal fireworks.

The problem was countywide. Between 7 p.m. and midnight, the Contra Costa Fire Protection District responded to 67 fires, with the peak in the 9 p.m. hour when crews responded to 30. In all, 10 were structure fires and 27 vegetation fires and other exterior fires. At least 16 of the fires were deemed to have been caused by fireworks.

“In spite of dozens of structures threatened, not a single home was lost,” Con Fire said.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, a Point Richmond resident, posted video from a high point showing fireworks being set off across the city, not unlike a large sanctioned show that usually occur over bodies of water.

“Those of you who were in the Army back in the day might remember an exercise called the ‘mad minute’ where everyone fired every weapon they had for a full minute,” Mayor Butt posted to Facebook. “That’s what it sounds like in Richmond, except it’s not a minute. It has gone on for hours.”

Richmond police dedicated a team to fireworks suppression and confiscated a lot of them Saturday night, said Lt. Matthew Stonebraker, who didn’t yet have exact figures on the amount seized.

Supervisor John Gioia was among many in the community expressing frustration.

“Just spoke to our Contra Costa Fire Chief who said that fire engines countywide are all busy responding to fires,” Gioia said on Facebook. “That means less first responders for medical emergencies.”

It’s not yet know if there were any injuries from the holiday weekend. In 2019, fireworks were responsible for sending an estimated 10,000 people to U.S. hospital emergency departments.

Fireworks use can also disturb pets and impact individuals suffering with post trauma.

Many neighbors are fed up with the disruptive activity.

“I share the anger and frustration that so many in our community feel about the unprecedented number of illegal fireworks,” Gioia said. “The perpetrators of this are putting others’ lives and properties at risk.”

The illegal use of fireworks has increased this year in the Bay Area and across the nation as citizens shelter in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the activity usually starts occurring in about June, this year it began as early as April, Richmond Interim Police Chief Bisa French said at a recent community forum about the issue.