MERCED — Whether its breaking out the ol' barbecue, setting up lawn chairs in the park to watch fireworks or taking time to remember a veteran, thousands of Merced County families will gather today and throughout the weekend to celebrate the nation's independence.
Regardless of how residents observe the Fourth of July, police and firefighters are hoping revelers will adhere to the law and use common sense to keep the holiday safe and fun for everyone.
Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said his department will have a few extra personnel working Thursday to help respond to any emergencies that might arise.
As a preventative measure, McLaughlin said firefighters will be watching for illegal fireworks and making sure residents use safe-and-sane fireworks properly.
McLaughlin said firefighters are asking residents to call 911 if they see someone using illegal fireworks or using safe-and-sane fireworks in a dangerous manner.
McLaughlin said residents should follow instructions on safe- and-sane fireworks and maintain a safe distance after lighting them. Fireworks should be kept far away from grass and brush.
Because of the expected extreme heat, with the high continuing to surpass the century mark, residents should be aware of the increased fire danger, McLaughlin said.
He urged people to drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of heat-related health problems and emergencies.
Law enforcement will have a greater presence on Merced County's roads this holiday weekend, searching for drunken or unsafe drivers, according to Merced Police Sgt. Jay Struble.
Merced police say they'll enforce roving saturation patrols throughout the city Friday and Saturday.
Los Banos police are planning on having roving saturation patrols Friday and Saturday. Atwater police will have roving saturation patrols Saturday, while UC Merced police will conduct similar operations Sunday, according to law enforcement.
The California Highway Patrol will also have an increased presence on the county's highways and unincorporated roads from now until midnight Sunday.
According to law enforcement, the percentage of fatalities from impaired driving tends to increase around the Fourth of July.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics indicate 392 people were killed in traffic crashes during the 2010 Fourth of July holiday enforcement period.
Of those deaths, 39 percent were in crashes involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher.
Fourth of July celebrations in Merced County:
WHAT: Parade, festival and fireworks show
WHEN AND WHERE: 7:30 a.m. today, "Run for Independence" a 2K and 5K run at Ralston Park, located on Third Street, between Grove and Fir avenues.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. in front of the Foster's Freeze at 1401 Winton Way.
The Fourth of July Festival is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Ralston Park.
The festival will be followed by a fireworks display at Castle Airport. Admission is $5 per car load, which includes parking, events and family entertainment, starting at 6 p.m.
COST: Registration for the run is $25. Admission on the former base for the fireworks show is $5 per car load. No walk-ins are allowed.
WHAT: Parade and festival
WHEN: Parade begins 10:30 a.m. today at the north end of Fifth Street in the downtown area, followed by 11:30 a.m. festival in Henry Miller Park, located near the area of Sixth Street and Third Avenue.
Beginning at nightfall, there will be fireworks at the Gustine High School stadium, located at 501 North Ave. Admission is free.
WHAT: Carnival and fireworks show
WHEN: The carnival will run from 3 p.m. to midnight today through Saturday, and from 3 to 11 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Park and Livingston High, near Park and Main streets. The fireworks show is slated to run from 9:20 to 10 p.m. Friday at Memorial Park.
WHAT: Fourth of July celebration, fireworks show
WHEN: Today, 5 p.m., at Veterans Memorial Stadium, 200 N. Ward Road.
The event is free to the public. A fireworks show begins shortly after 9 p.m.
WHAT: Fireworks at Lake McClure
WHEN: Friday at sunset
WHERE: Enter off main gate, Lake McClure Road
COST: $15 per car
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The event, sponsored by the Merced Irrigation District's Parks and Recreation Department, is the first offered by the MID. The parking and viewing area will be open at 2 p.m. and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendees should arrive early to ensure a good spot.