By Mike Kinney
At last, Richmond’s sanctioned Independence Day celebration and fireworks show at Marina Bay Park returned last weekend following a pandemic hiatus. Also good news: while residents reported periods of unrelenting uses of illegal fireworks in their neighborhoods, there appeared to be a reduction in their use overall.
From 7 p.m. Sunday, July 3, to 5 a.m. Monday, July 4, Richmond 911 dispatch reported receiving 39 calls for service regarding illegal fireworks, along with two ShotSpotter notifications and one call about gunfire, according to the Richmond Police Department. The numbers ticked up the following night, with 200 calls for service about illegal fireworks from 7 p.m. Monday, July 4 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, July 5. That night, the Richmond Fire Department responded to a grass fire at the old Chevy’s restaurant site in Hilltop.
Two hundred calls complaining about fireworks is certainly not nothing, and other incidents likely went unreported. But the number of calls was far fewer than last year, when Richmond’s police chief detailed a “complete disregard for the law” occurring throughout the city, with no neighborhood spared from an illegal fireworks deluge. In 2021, the RPD processed 307 fireworks-related calls from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Fourth of July into the Fifth of July, and assisted RFD in responding to several fires. During the same hours the previous night in 2021, dispatch received 100 calls about illegal fireworks. That number was 17 fewer than the same period in 2020.
The RPD welcomed the reduction in fireworks calls this past weekend given the department is undermanned due to budget cuts.
“In partnership with the community and the RPD’s public outreach this year, it appears our numbers have decreased from the previous year,” Richmond police spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Pomeroy said. “Even though staffing numbers are less than in previous years, our community has stepped up and has heeded the warning of the use of illegal fireworks in Richmond.”
In certain hours in some neighborhoods, residents may not have agreed that the level of use of illegal fireworks had reduced. Neighborhoods including the North and East, Richmond Heights and Belding-Woods, for example, experienced a barrage of illegal fireworks going off for several hours at points. But they tapered off seemingly earlier in the evening than in past years.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt noted that over the past several years, the use of illegal fireworks would start weeks before the Independence Day weekend. He said Richmond residents wanting to see them again this year “were not disappointed.”
“Just before dark, the sky exploded and it did not let up for hours, despite the fact that it is all dangerous and illegal,” the mayor said. “If there is any good news, it is that the level of fireworks in the weeks leading up to the 4th was the lowest in memory.”
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia expressed a similar sentiment. saying, “While there were some illegal fireworks, it seems there were less than last year.”
“I am hoping this may be an indication of a slowdown in the use of illegal fireworks here in the City,” Mayor Butt said.
The reduction could be related to the return of a sanctioned fireworks show, or possibly other activities that drew people away from hosting illegal shows in their neighborhoods. Increased fines and penalties may have also played a role. Mayor Butt noted speculation that the stalled supply chain may have “left fireworks stranded in container shops,” but he added that the display in Richmond last weekend “proved the supply was abundant.”
The use of illegal fireworks can injure people and cause fires, particularly during the current drought conditions, and they’re also a contributor to toxic pollution that impacts people’s healths and emits greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
On Jan. 2 last year, Richmond resident Don Gosney, editor of Radio Free Richmond, said illegal fireworks landed in his backyard, causing more than $35,000 in damages. His house was OK.
“I was fortunate that several neighborhood youths pounded on my front door to let me know that my backyard was on fire with flames shooting more than 30 feet up into the air,” Gosney said.