By Mike Kinney
The predicted deluge of illegal fireworks that lit up over Richmond during the Fourth of July weekend left no neighborhood at peace and once again overwhelmed the police and fire departments, according to neighbors, community leaders and officials.
Between Sunday at 5 p.m. and Monday at 2 a.m., the Richmond 911 dispatch center received 328 calls for service related to illegal fireworks. Richmond Fire companies were “extremely busy,” according to Battalion Chief Aaron Osorio in a report shared with Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. Juveniles setting off fireworks caused a quarter-acre fire in the 3100 block of Southhamptom Ct. Large fireworks set off in the 800 block of Banks Drive caused a 3-acre vegetation fire in Point Pinole Park. A large fireworks show also caused a vegetation fire in the 1200 block of Kelsey St.
There were no known fireworks-related injuries, but in general “the use of fireworks across the city was at a level I have never witnessed before,” Battalion Chief Osorio said.
“To say it was excessive would be an understatement,” he said.
The fireworks activity was extreme the previous night as well, with the Richmond dispatch center receiving 100 calls about illegal fireworks, about 17 fewer than the same period the previous year.
In addition to the fireworks, six ShotSpotter activations alerted police to gunshots, police said.
No neighborhood was unaffected, with old downtown Richmond being the most heavily impacted by illegal fireworks use, staff from the 911 Dispatch Center reported.
“There were some very elaborate displays of fireworks throughout the City,” Richmond Police Sgt. Donovan Decious said. “The largest and biggest illegal fireworks display was in Atchison Village. By the time our officers had arrived everyone had dispersed.”
On social media, an Atchison Village resident sent a statement to Mayor Butt reporting illegal firework activity at Richard Boyd Park, formerly Atchison Village Park.
“Please go out to the park before the remains of the material gets cleaned up and see for yourself what occurred,” the resident said. “There were two fires because of these explosives that were detonated, all at the same time.”
The Standard received photographs of the aftermath of all the debris and burns to grass those fireworks created.
In the City’s Central District, RPD confiscated a resident’s illegal stash after seeing fireworks being set off there. Mayor Butt said he’d like to see more arrests along with fines and convictions. This year, the Mayor’s Office began offering a $2,500 to anyone who reports a fireworks violation in Richmond that leads to arrest and conviction.
Police responses to sites where fireworks were reported seemed to stop the activity in those areas, Sgt Decious said.
Supervisor John Gioia told the Standard the City sounded like a war zone and echoed resident sentiments of anger and disappointment over the “irresponsible” behavior. He said there needs to be a national ban on all fireworks to prevent people from getting a hold of them.
“Fireworks are illegal in Contra Costa County,” he said. “What people do is buy fireworks elsewhere and bring them here and use them illegally here in Richmond. Despite all of the proactive efforts to stop illegal fireworks, it’s crazy out there.”
Gioia described local law enforcement and fire departments as overwhelmed late Sunday night going into early Monday morning. At one point Sunday night, Richmond police had 60 calls on hold from people reporting illegal fireworks, he said.
“If you’re expecting police and fire to show up to catch illegal fireworks perpetrators, just know they are busy responding to actual fires,” Gioia said.
Richmond Heights resident and journalist Don Gosney described the illegal fireworks displays as “overwhelming and nonstop.” In January, he was a victim of errant illegal fireworks that landed in his backyard, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
The activity wasn’t as bad as last year, North & East resident and community activist Martin Thomas said. He believes the reopening of the economy amid the ongoing global pandemic contributed to reduced activity. But a relative reduction still meant rampant activity.
Neighbor Georgette Bynum said a return to safe fireworks activity is needed. Sanctioned shows, such as the annual show on the Richmond waterfront that was canceled again this year due to the pandemic, may have contributed. Bynum wonders if having a spot where residents could safely set off their own fireworks might present a solution.
“If there were a safe gathering place, people could show-off their stuff in competitions and not have to be on the streets in our local neighborhoods using illegal fireworks,” Bynum said.
Gioia said the community needs to take responsibility for its collective behavior.
“We need to take a close look at ourselves and ask ourselves why so many people act so irresponsibly and disrespect their neighbors by causing them pain and suffering, risk harm to themselves and increase fire risks in their own community,” Gioia stated on Facebook. “We need a culture shift so, as community members, we respect our neighbors.”