STOCKTON — The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, in cooperation with fire departments around the region, are making signs available to residents who want to let neighbors know that Independence Day fireworks upset loved ones.
District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar was at the Lodi Outdoor Market at Jim Elliot High School last Saturday, with large blue yard signs that read “Fireworks Free Zone.”
A large white box in the center of the sign allows residents to write the name of a pet or relative who may be sensitive to the noise generated by the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Salazar told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that during her visit to Lodi, several residents informed her that their neighborhoods were already filled with the sounds of explosion and gunshots, four weeks ahead of the holiday.
“As we know, the adverse impacts of illegal fireworks have on our veterans who suffer from PTSD, our senior community, who could be struggling with things such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, to our infants who are trying to get a night’s sleep, the noise and production of sound we are seeing is not what we saw 20 or 30 years ago,” she said. “These are the equivalents to a half a stick, or a stick of dynamite.”
All fireworks are illegal in unincorporated areas of the county, and only those dubbed “safe and sane” are allowed within the limits of all seven cities in the county.
Those who use, sell, possess, discharge or transport fireworks that do not have the official seal of the state Fire Marshall in unincorporated areas of the county will be prosecuted on felony charges, Salazar said. Her office has prosecuted more than 150 cases of illegal fireworks over the years, she said.
“They terrorize our neighborhood, including our pets and our loved ones,” Salazar said. “This sign lets neighbors know that if they are discharging illegal fireworks, that there is a consequence. We are a little less than a month away from the Fourth of July and people are shooting them off and it is constant.”
Tracy Fire Department Chief Randall Bradley, who was recently named president of the San Joaquin County Fire Chiefs Association, said there are significant injuries, property loss and damage reports every year due to the use of illegal fireworks across the county.
“Unfortunately, it’s become a socially acceptable norm,” he said. “It’s one of those few things we have in California that could be a felony, and it’s socially acceptable to light off these illegal fireworks. It’s a big challenge to fight off that trend. They’re cheaper, more powerful, and more available on the markets. They’re actually legal in a lot of other states. So you don't have to go to another country to obtain these.”
With about 75% of the state experiencing extreme drought conditions this year, Bradley said there is a great concern to fire service personnel that many residents do not understand the dangers of lighting illegal fireworks.
“This year, our fire conditions are the worst we’ve seen in decades,” he said. “Our fuel moisture levels are lower than they have been at this time of the year ever, and our fire activity this year is up 400%.”
He added that last year, 12 homes across the county were lost in fires on the afternoon of July 4 alone. While crews could not directly attribute the blazes to illegal fireworks, Bradley said there was a good possibility fireworks were the cause. Jill Antonini of the Animal Protection League said the fireworks seem to get louder and bigger every year, as well as go off later into the evenings.
“They start weeks before (Independence Day), and we get phone calls about animals busting out of backyards,” she said. “They get run over, they get injured, they become lost and never returned to families. I can’t tell you the last time I went out for the 4th of July, because I have to be home to make sure my animals are comforted. It’s a horrible time for animals and I hope people will take that into consideration this year, and every year going forward.”
According to www.petamberalert.com, animal control officers across the country see a 30-60% increase in pets each year between July 4 and 6.
If your pet has a fear of or aversion to loud noises, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests playing soft music or moving your pet into an interior room with no windows.
You can also try an anxiety vest or a snugly fitting T-shirt, or even anti-anxiety medication.
In Lodi, “safe and sane” fireworks go on sale seven days before Independence Day, and a city ordinance allows them to be used between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on that day. Complaints can be made by calling 209-333-6739. Six local nonprofits were recently awarded permits to operate sales booths through the city’s lottery, including LIFE Robotics, Lodi Adopt-A-Child, Tokay Science Boosters, Cutting Edge Club and Jim Elliot High School.
The District Attorney’s Office will be at Lincoln Center in Stockton this weekend with the “Fireworks Free Zone” signs, and residents will be able to obtain them at the Lodi Fire Department’s main office at 210 W. Elm St. in the coming weeks.