Citing the risk of fire, injury and death caused by fireworks, Los Angeles area fire officials Friday pleaded with the public not to shoot off their own pyrotechnics and instead visit professional shows, which were on pause last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m here to ask for your help as we approach the Fourth of July,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. “All fireworks are illegal in the city of Los Angeles. There are no exceptions.”
The use of illegal fireworks soared last year with shows canceled. The Los Angeles Police Department in 2020 saw a 72% increase in calls for illegal fireworks, which reached about 6,000.
Those who are caught using fireworks can face a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to six months. Instead of putting themselves and others at jeopardy, city officials hope that people will take advantage this Sunday of one of 20 sanctioned fireworks shows, which can be found at bit.ly/3AhtOyB.
“With us facing another year of extreme drought conditions, we’re extremely concerned about the potential of large brush fires … Last year on the Fourth of July, the L.A. City Fire Department responded to 429 more emergency incidents than our daily average,” Terrazas said. “These calls were caused by fireworks and included a significant fire in an apartment building in Northridge that displaced more than 50 residents.”
He added that this year’s fire conditions are worse than last year, citing the Pacific Palisades blaze that burned more than 1,100 acres in May.
“This is fire behavior that we’ve never seen before, and it’s what we expect to see through the end of the year,” Terrazas said.
Los Angeles County Acting Deputy Fire Chief Vince Pena said county firefighters responded to 39 incidents “directly-related and sparked by fireworks” during the week before and the week after the Fourth of July last year. Two were fatalities caused by a fireworks explosion in Baldwin Park.
Pena said fire crews also responded to 14 injuries on Independence Day 2020, including hand injuries that caused amputations and disfigurement.
“Our number one priority is your family’s safety, and fireworks are dangerous. Period,” he said. “We’d like to emphasize that in Los Angeles County, it is illegal to store, manufacture, sell and use fireworks. At this time we continue to support our law enforcement partners to track down those who jeopardize public safety through the sale and illegal use of fireworks.”
County fire personnel on Friday demonstrated how quickly clothes can catch fire from even a sparkler firework. Dr. Matt Young of the Grossman Burn Center, said his staff is bracing for a busy holiday weekend.
“It’s already started this year. At the Grossman Burn Center, we’ve seen an increase in the number of injuries related to fireworks,” he said, adding that parents often don’t realize the dangers of fireworks until a tragedy happens.
In 2019, about 10,000 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Along with the risk of fire and injury, officials warn of the impact on air quality throughout the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District warned Friday of potentially poor air quality that could have negative health effects, and noted that the air quality on July 4-5 is typically among the worst of the year.
Last year, the use of legal and illegal fireworks in Southern California created the worst air quality in the region in a decade.
“Last year, we suspect that personal use of consumer grade fireworks was much larger than previous years with the cancellation of many public shows due to the pandemic,” the AQMD’s Kim White told City News Service. “We do not know if emissions this year will look more like last year or more like previous years with widespread public shows planned this year throughout the region.”
Officials also warn of the effects fireworks have on pets and people, especially veterans, with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Los Angeles Department of Animal Services encourages pet owners to microchip their animals ahead of the Fourth of July weekend and make sure all pets wear ID tags, as animals commonly become lost while trying to escape the loud noises from fireworks. Along with the risk of burns and injuries, some pets may ingest fireworks. The department suggests keeping animals indoors and in an enclosed room if possible.
Residents can report fireworks use and sale through 311, at lacity.org/myla311, or the Los Angeles Police Department’s complaint system at lapdonline.org/fireworks.
With illegal fireworks becoming a year-round presence in Los Angeles this past year, the Los Angeles City Council in May requested a report on expanding the 311 fireworks reporting system to be available throughout the year, instead of only during the weeks leading up to and after Independence Day.
On Wednesday, the city held its first fireworks buyback program, which was initiated by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, which resulted in more than a quarter-ton of pyrotechnics being removed from the streets.
The program was located in Mission Hills and focused on the San Fernando Valley, as 45% of last year’s fireworks-related service calls were for that area, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said.
Rodriguez has also called for a reward program for people who report large suppliers of illegal fireworks in Los Angeles, but that program has not begun yet.
On Tuesday, the City Council also approved a motion introduced by Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas to direct fire and police departments to report back on setting up a mobile app to track and respond to fireworks complaints and issue automatic violations, similar to a program set up in San Bernardino County.
In an effort to go after suppliers targeting Angelenos with illegal fireworks, City Attorney Mike Feuer said on June 22 that his office’s Consumer Protection Unit sent cease-and-desist letters to major online platforms that were hosting fireworks advertisements in Los Angeles.
The platforms — which included Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp and 5Miles — agreed to remove the advertisements targeting customers in L.A., Feuer’s office said. The letters informed the corporations that the platforms hosted fireworks-for-sale offers in L.A., in violation of municipal and state law.