Bay Area cities see increase in illegal firework activity, July Fourth show almost every night

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- It's become a regular thing in Oakland, San Francisco and other Bay Area cities -- fireworks like it's the Fourth of July, almost every night for the past few months.

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Like Friday night at Lake Merritt, where neighbors shot loud video of a constant barrage of sparkling light and loud booms.

City Councilman Noel Gallo knows the problem well--in the Fruitvale neighborhood where he lives.

"Right now we have this kind of hands-off attitude," said Gallo. "It's almost like at 9 p.m., it's everybody's time to hang loose and start shooting. They shoot up, not only fireworks. There's activity sounds like bombs going off. And they last all throughout until two in the morning."

Saturday afternoon, the telltale booms and blasts began in East Oakland at 6 p.m., nearly three hours before sunset.

Whether it's shelter boredom or the sense that no one will catch them, the boldness of those setting off the illegal devices is especially concerning heading into the heart of fire season.

But, Oakland police concede with COVID-19 and so much else going on right now, catching and citing fireworks violators is especially challenging.

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"As we're standing here right now, we're hearing the sounds of fireworks," said Oakland Police Spokesperson Johnna Watson. "Right now, we're standing here at our Eastmont Substation. We know all around us we're hearing the sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, M80s. Do we know exactly where they're coming from? No."

"I know we're not celebrating Fourth of July or Father's Day cause we've been doing this now for months and we've got to stop that behavior," said Gallo.

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Part of the challenge of cracking down on the activity is that a police officer actually has to witness offenders with illegal fireworks in their possession and/or actually igniting or lighting them.

One theory floated by Oakland Fire Department Spokesman Michael Hunt is that with so many of the sanctioned fireworks shows and events canceled due to COVID-19, some of that excess product has made its way onto the open market.

Next Wednesday, police from Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo are getting together to sponsor a webinar with the hope of gaining the public's cooperation by educating them about the dangers of illegal fireworks, and especially celebratory gunfire.

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