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Cities prepare for the Fourth of July

June 27, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A thousand fires are burning in Northern California. Lightning sparked most of them, including the one in Big Sur. On Friday night the flames threatened 575 homes, 16 were already destroyed and all the smoke was complicating firefighting efforts.

Some two-dozen San Francisco firefighters returned on Friday from Butte County, where they were helping with a wildfire that's scorched 17 square miles. They were there a week and say they worked a lot and slept very little.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met firefighters in Shasta County. About 160 fires are burning there alone. The governor said he's asked for federal help so California can get more money to pay for fire crews. He also released a written statement re-iterating the following plea he made Wednesday.

"If I would be you, and I know that the people who are selling all this stuff are going to go crazy when I say this, but don't buy any of the fireworks," said Governor Schwarzenegger.

The governor says he's not banning fireworks sales, but he really wants counties to think hard about not selling them. He also wants citizens to rethink their Fourth of July celebrations. Some local cities are rethinking their plans for this holiday as well.

Alameda County fire officials inspected a fireworks stand and others in the City of Dublin on Friday. Sales of state approved fireworks launch off at noon on Saturday in Dublin. Spinners, handheld and smoking fireworks, cone, base and box fountains will be sold as usual and public opinion seems evenly divided.

"I actually wish they would have banned them. Everything is so dry and the chances of setting more fires off right now is pretty high," said Aldo Liclican, a fireworks sales opponent.

"I'm disappointed the governor didn't go ahead and ban it considering what's happening in the state of California right now," said Marie Kamrath, a fireworks sales opponent.

"You just can't legislate stupidity. If people aren't going to be responsible enough to exercise good sense, you're going to have problems and these are perfectly safe, you'd have to stick them in your mouth to cause a problem," said Jerry Chesnut, a fireworks sales supporter.

"I think it's good they're still selling them. The Fourth of July wouldn't be the same without them," said Jana Salamanca, a fireworks sales supporter.

The governor is leaving it up to cities and counties to decide what works best locally. Watsonville voted to ban sales this year. Gilroy, like Dublin, decided to sell because so many schools and nonprofits depend on the money the fireworks stands generate.

"We only sell the safe and sane ones. And we specify to people when they light them up to have a bucket of water and follow all the safety parameters and we've never had a problem in Dublin," said Amy Last, Co-Chair for her school's fireworks booth.

Still, Oakland fire officials are worried about problems this year in the extremely dry hills come the Fourth of July.

"An additional strategy we're taking is to put roaming fire units and patrols in the high risk areas in the hills. We'll staff an additional two engine companies to be patrol units," said Lt. David Brue, a Oakland Fire Department.

Last year, Oakland neighborhoods popped and crackled with illegal fireworks displays that lit the skies. Officials are begging citizens to rethink that this year.

"We are encouraging our citizens to attend the fireworks festival at Jack London Square rather than engage in a fireworks festival on their block or in their front yard," said Lt. Brue.

Oakland city officials are also asking citizens to turn in their fireworks. They can go to any fire station to turn them in for disposal.

Side note:
San Bruno increased the penalty for the illegal use of fireworks. In a last-minute meeting on Friday, council members upped the fine for a first offense to $500.

By law, the council cannot ban safe and sane fireworks because of a ballot initiative that passed in 2005.


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