With the threat of wildfires high due to dry vegetation and a bark beetle epidemic that has killed thousands of trees in Eastern Madera County, fire officials are reminding everyone that all fireworks, including those deemed “Safe and Sane,” are illegal in the foothills and Mountain Area throughout the year, including July 4.
That ongoing threat has been amplified by the disastrous Erskine Fire that had burned more than 45,000 acres by Tuesday, killed two people, destroyed more than 200 homes, and damaged another 75 near Lake Isabella in Kern County.
Anyone caught simply for possession of illegal fireworks, such as bottle rockets and roman candles, can spend up to three years in state prison with a maximum $50,000 fine. A one-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine is the maximum penalty for possession of “Safe and Sane” fireworks in the Mountain Area, even for minor variations like sparklers.
According to Cal Fire, serious injuries with millions of dollars in property loss happen each year from wildfires sparked by fireworks, and this year’s dangerous conditions have fire crews on high alert. State law, and county ordinances prohibits the possession and discharge of fireworks in Eastern Madera County and Mariposa County.
Anyone who causes a fire through the misuse of fireworks is liable and can be billed for the cost of controlling the fire, and parents are liable for any damage or injuries caused by their children using fireworks.
“Safe and Sane” fireworks are the only fireworks that can be sold in Madera County, and can be used only on the Valley floor.
Cal Fire urges everyone to use caution as fire danger remains higher than normal.
AAA is reporting close to five million Californians will be traveling during the Independence Day weekend, the highest number since 2002.
Limited access for fireworks display at Bass Lake
Access to viewing areas for the July 4th fireworks display over Bass Lake are severely limited this year due to closed day use areas.
Day use areas (Recreation Point, Denver Church, Pine Slope, Rocky Point) on the lake’s south shore have been closed by the U.S. Forest Service due to a major cutting and removal operation of dead trees.
The only open day use areas are Pine Point, Lakeside, and The Falls.
Forest Service law enforcement personnel and sheriff’s deputies will monitor the closed areas and issue citations for trespassing if necessary.
Forest Service fire restrictions and expected to be in place for the July 4th weekend, restricting ‘open flames’ in campgrounds and day use areas.
Motorists are reminded that all vehicles must have all four tires “off” Road 222 (the lake’s South Shore) and Road 432 (North Shore) as well as surrounding roadways, or risk having their vehicles towed.
Boat owners are encouraged to decorate their boats and enter the annual Bass Lake Boat Parade which will begin near the entrance to Willow Cove at 7 p.m..
Judging will take place in front of the Miller’s Landing Marina between 7:30 and 8 p.m.. There’s no fee to enter the boat parade. Details: Michelle Miller, (559) 642-3633.
Red Flag patrols
To help detect any use of fireworks in an effort to prevent potential wildfires, a group of citizen volunteers will also be patrolling the Mountain Area as people celebrate July 4th.
For at least a decade, Cal Fire’s Volunteers in Prevention (VIP) program perform Red Flag patrols as support for law enforcement and firefighters on America’s birthday.
“In the past, we’ve spotted illegal fireworks, automobile accidents that can result in fires, and we’ve helped provide directions to the public ... it’s really about providing service to the community,” said Simon Elman, the group’s ham radio coordinator. “And with this year’s fire season, it’s hyper critical to catch any fires when they’re small.”
Elman and many of the VIPs on July 4th patrols are members of amateur radio clubs in Oakhurst and Mariposa.
The volunteers, around 25 in total, will patrol nine major routes starting at 5 p.m., Elman said, with a wide range from Redinger Lake in Eastern Fresno County to Lake McClure in Mariposa, as well as Bass lake, Oakhurst and surrounding areas.
On June 22 at Steve’s Sportsmans Cafe on Highway 49, the VIPs went over their patrol routes and procedures.
As they drive along Road 200, 425B, or others, the volunteers - equipped with flashlights, cameras, binoculars, compasses, maps, and radios - will keep an eye out for anything that looks out of place, including potential fires or other dangers.
They then relay the information to a member at Cal Fire dispatch, using their amateur radio equipment. That’s of notable value, Elman said, as cell phone reception is often unavailable in certain areas.
The VIP then tells Cal Fire about the situation, and dispatch sends out the right crews, including ambulances or law enforcement as needed.
Jaime Williams, Cal Fire spokesperson, said the VIPs are of utmost importance to help keep the mountains safe, especially during a holiday like July 4th.
“They are an extra set of eyes and ears out there for us,” Williams said. “They’re out there to see and be seen, so hopefully people will avoid activities that could cause a fire, like lighting any fireworks or anything else they shouldn’t be doing.”
Williams added while Cal Fire and the VIPs may be performing a necessary service July 4th, veterans and active members of the military deserve the public’s gratitude.
“I just want to thank them for their service and for our independence,” Williams said.
Details: Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, (209) 966-3622.