Illegal fireworks light up the night and Modesto area dispatch switchboards

The free 4th of July fireworks at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, July 4, 2014 in Turlock.
The free 4th of July fireworks at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, July 4, 2014 in Turlock. dnoda@modbee.com

Illegal fireworks flew, but there were no major trouble spots during a busier-than-usual Fourth of July, area fire and law enforcement agencies said Saturday.

“We had a tremendous amount of fireworks (calls), the whole county did, but no real problems,” said Stanislaus County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Davis. “Woodward Reservoir was at capacity, but there were no unusual problems.”

The Modesto Police Department had 244 incidents logged, compared with about 200 on a normal Friday, Sgt. Martha Delgado said.

“It was just a very busy day,” she said.

A number of grass and small fires kept Modesto Fire Department engines rolling.

“It was a pretty active Fourth,” Battalion Chief Randy Anderson said.

“There was a lot of trying to stomp it out, but it got away from them,” Anderson said. “We had fence fires and some trash can fires where the fireworks were not cold when they threw them away.”

A 4-acre brush fire near the Oakdale Airport was unofficially blamed on fireworks. “I couldn’t prove it, but chances are good that was it. There were a lot of aerial fireworks in the area,” said Battalion Chief Rick Bussell of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District.

“We ran quite a few calls,” Bussell said, ticking off 30 in the consolidated district and 21 in the Oakdale area. Besides medical calls, those included a number of small grass fires, rubbish fires in vacant lots and fence fires started by burning brush around them.

Though not conclusively fireworks-related, he said, “We couldn’t find any other source other than the sparks (from aerial fireworks).”

All aerial fireworks, outside of professional displays, are illegal in California.

Enforcement for aerial fireworks in the Salida area was a far cry from just a few years ago, said Corie Wilson, who has lived on Overland Place since 2002.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Wilson, who watched the fireworks from the comfort of her yard with her husband, Randy. “There was like a competition last night” lighting up the sky.

The Wilsons live near one entry into their housing complex, off Covert Road and between Finney Road and Toomes Road. Wilson recalled how only four or five years ago, a police helicopter with a searchlight circled the area and coordinated with authorities on the ground to extinguish illegal displays.

“The police would park in the beginning of the development,” she said, “and then take off when they saw (illegal) fireworks.” That presence has tapered off in recent memory, she said.

The result, though, she said, has been enjoying the perks of the Fourth without the hassle of crowds.

“It was very enjoyable,” Wilson said.

In Turlock, where a free fireworks show lit up the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, police and fire departments reported being busy but having no major trouble spots.

Turlock police had several officers patrolling the fairgrounds and surrounding area, but there were no arrests or significant incidents, Turlock police Sgt. James Silveira said.

“They had a pretty quiet night,” Silveira said. “Dispatch did have a lot of fireworks calls between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.,” he added, “There were a lot of booms going on.”

Turlock fire engines kept busy with many more medical and small fire calls than normal, and one non-fireworks-related house fire, said TFD Chief Tim Lohman.

“ ‘A’ shift had a busy Fourth of July, with 27 calls for service,” Lohman said. “We average about 16 calls per shift.” He added that the total did not include the number of contacts firefighters had with people lighting illegal fireworks, which will not be tallied until later this week.

All the agencies reported that extra staffing for the holiday helped stop small problems before they escalated.