Smoke from barbecues and fireworks filled the air Sunday as central San Joaquin Valley residents celebrated Independence Day. Many families gathered at parks, rivers, lakes and fireworks stands to celebrate America's 234th birthday.
With temperatures hitting the upper 90s, many Valley residents sought relief near water, jamming places such as Skaggs Bridge County Park on the San Joaquin River north of Kerman.
Valdemar Valderas of Avenal spent the day frying up a variety of meats at Skaggs Bridge County Park with his family and friends. He was among the lucky ones.
The park was packed, with 341 paid entrances, and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office closed the park's gates around 11 a.m., turning several hundred cars away.
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Despite the gate closure, Robert and Vanessa Gonzales and Carmelo Vargas parked nearly a mile away and hauled their picnic items to the park. Others, however, simply gave up and went elsewhere.
Maria Isiordia of Fresno had planned to spend the day with her family at Skaggs Bridge County Park, but left because it was too crowded. Instead the family relaxed at Roeding Park in central Fresno, eating barbecue shrimp kabobs and carne asada. Isiordia said her family planned to watch fireworks in the evening at her apartment complex in Fresno.
Andrew Fagan of Fresno enjoyed barbecue ribeye steaks and a pool party with his three children and his pastor's family Sunday.
Fagan said he and his family would light off their own fireworks, then head over to Buchanan High School in Clovis to enjoy the firework show there. He planned to cap the evening off with homemade apple cobbler.
August Flach spent his Fourth of July selling fireworks at Third Street and Hughes Avenue in Clovis for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Fresno resident is a member of the Clovis post.
He said members would gather at the stand for a potluck and barbecue tri-tip, ribs and chicken to celebrate the holiday, a tradition since the post began selling fireworks 32 years ago.
Many Valley communities held fireworks displays Sunday evening. But throughout the day, area firefighters responded to reports of illegal or unsafe fireworks and small fires.
Eight task forces from the Fresno Fire Department spent Independence Day patrolling the city on the lookout for illegal fireworks and legal pyrotechnics being used in an unsafe manner, Battalion Chief Charles Tobias said Sunday. Each of the task-force teams was made up of a fire department investigator and a Fresno police officer.
The Fire Department also had three 4-wheel-drive "brush rigs" ready in case brush fires were started by fireworks.