By Mary O’KEEFE
“Fuel moisture levels are low.”
That is the warning from firefighters. The drought is on the minds of many Californians. Water conservation, restrictions and water rate hikes have worked their way into casual California conversation. Another subject of conversation as the drought continues is fire danger and, as the Fourth of July approaches, fireworks become a concern for local firefighters.
“On the Fourth [of July] we patrol the neighborhoods to make certain people aren’t using fireworks,” said Capt. Didier Conrad from Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Station 63.
Fireworks in Los Angeles County are illegal, including “safe and sane” fireworks like those that do not fly or explode, such as fountains, sparklers and snake items.
“It is as dry as it has ever been,” Conrad said. “We are not getting the moisture; it’s not only the [rain we are not getting] but the water reservoirs are down.”
Conrad added the fuel moisture is at levels that are normally seen in September and October after the summer months. Years ago those months used to be known as the start of fire season; however, the drought has changed that.
“[Now] we have a year-round fire season,” Conrad said. “[We see] vegetation fires in January, February and March.”
He added he doesn’t remember that happening in the past and the traditional months for Santa Ana wind conditions, September and October, have also changed.
“We are recommending [residents] go to the public fireworks shows. We have one here at the [Crescenta Valley] high school. It’s a great one for residents,” Conrad said.
There are also more options that can be found online and fireworks shows at the beach, he added.
Fireworks are legal in some Southern California cities like Anaheim. Conrad advised that if a resident purchases fireworks in a city where they are legal, that is where they should use them.
“Don’t bring them to [this] community,” he said.
That is true for those who will be spending the Fourth of July, or any time, in the Angeles National Forest.
“Possession of fireworks in a national forest is illegal,” said Nathan Judy, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
That means you cannot have fireworks at all, not even driving through a national forest.
“We will have extra patrols in the forest this weekend and we will be closing some of our roads, ” he added.
The road that goes up to Chantry Flats will be closed early on the Fourth of July.
“At this time, local fuel moisture levels closely resemble those which are normally seen later in the summer and [all areas] are highly susceptible to fire,” stated Fire Chief Robert Garcia. “With every fire [started], we have a potential for large fire growth, not just on red flag days.”
The fire danger level in the ANF has been raised to “Very High.”
The U.S. Forest Service will have more fire engines and extra patrols during the holiday and L.A. County Fire Dept. will also be out in the neighborhoods, as will sheriffs.
“Fire and law enforcement officials want to remind visitors that the possession or use of all fireworks, even those deemed ‘safe and sane,’ are prohibited on national forest system lands. Violation of this law is punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment of not more than six months, or both. Human-caused wildfires, which damage natural resources, threaten lives and property, and account for 94% of all wildfires on the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument,” according to a U.S. Forest Service press release.
Anyone who sees someone who may be using fireworks is asked to contact Glendale Police Dept. at (818) 548-4911 or CV Sheriff’s Station at (818) 248-3464.
When calling, if a resident can be as specific as possible that will help both sheriffs and firefighters pinpoint where the fireworks are being used.
“We do struggle with finding the point of origin,” said Lt. Yeager, L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. of some calls that come in reporting fireworks seen somewhere in the area.