Marek Warszawski

Columnist called for a ban of legal fireworks in Fresno. Surprisingly, you agreed

Fresno Fire Department Fourth of July calls fall over last year

Call volume increased over the daily average but dropped from last year's holiday. The fire department credits the police department for helping locate illegal fireworks use.
Up Next
Call volume increased over the daily average but dropped from last year's holiday. The fire department credits the police department for helping locate illegal fireworks use.

Thought I'd get roasted. Torn limb from limb on social media. Made to sit in a chair, arms and legs bound by leather straps, while "Yankee Doodle Dandy" played on an endless loop over a loudspeaker.

All for expressing an opinion, surely an unpopular one, that Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley is no place for legal, personal fireworks. Not on the Fourth of July. Not ever.

But then the strangest thing happened. The overwhelming majority of you agreed with me.

Between emails, voice messages and comments left on Twitter, Facebook and fresnobee.com, I must have heard from 100 people. Which is more response to anything I've written since taking on the Clovis Unified School District for allowing two former Buchanan High baseball stars charged with sexual assault in 2016 to keep playing.

Take note, local politicians jockeying to be on the majority side of an issue that impacts real people living in real neighborhoods.

"I fully agree with you and the reasoning behind not having fireworks," Steve of Fresno wrote in an email. "In this area of poor air quality, we should not be adding to the problem. Thank you for speaking out!"

"It's way past time that we abolished these fireworks sold to the public," echoed Howard of Clovis. "Shouldn't public safety and health be more important to the organizations selling fireworks than the few dollars they make?"

SF HOLIDAYWRAP 02
Crystal Aldape, 26, of Fresno, reaches for boxes of fireworks as customers line up to buy remaining supplies at a deep discount at a fireworks stand near Blackstone and Shaw avenues in Fresno, California, on July 5, 2015. SILVIA FLORES sflores@fresnobee.com

"I live in Visalia and totally agree with you that fireworks should be banished in the Valley," Linda wrote. "And while we are at it, ban leaf blowers that blow nothing but dust."

My reasoning for dousing legal fireworks sales was based on three factors: spikes in harmful particle pollution that soar higher than federal health standards; spikes in calls for fire and emergency medical services; and spikes in the number of frightened pets that turn up at animal-rescue shelters or wind up injured or dead.

"I have four dogs and Fourth of July is a nightmare for us," Isabelle called in to say. "The dogs have to be medicated, and they still shake all night long."

One factor I didn't recognize, at least not until sifting through the responses, is how the Fourth of July isn't just a one-night event. Many readers emailed and called to tell me how the explosions start well before the official holiday and don't stop once the clock strikes midnight.

"In our neighborhood, this nonsense starts two weeks before (July 4) and continues long after this "hell-i-day" ends," Gunnar of Fresno emailed.

"Somebody shooting off a heavy weapon at the corner of Fresno and Herndon," Jack wrote on Twitter on July 6. "No worries, went on all night Wednesday. Great getting to experience a war zone for the second time this week."

This is where I should make the distinction between legal fireworks, sold at one of those stands that spring up all over the place, and illegal fireworks, sold over the Internet or out of the back of someone's cargo van.

What's the cause and effect between the two?

Banning legal fireworks, some argue, will just lead to an increase of the illegal variety from those who believe lighting fuses on the Fourth of July is an unalienable right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But I'm not sure I buy that logic, and neither do my readers. Stan in Clovis called to tell me his neighbor ("a total pyro") always makes sure to purchase a few safe and sane fireworks as a cover for the bottle rockets and cherry bombs he continually sets off.

You know, just in case the police or fire investigators come knocking on his door.

"Look officer," he can tell them, "all perfectly legal."

A Fresno Bee story published July 6 reported the Fresno Fire Department received 20 to 25 percent fewer calls for services related to illegal fireworks this Fourth of July compared with last year, which represented a 65 percent increase from 2016.

However, that may be more accounting trick than true representation. Fresno Fire PIO Robert Castillo attributed the decline to an increase in enforcement as well as a change in the department's response methods.

In past years, a fire truck would be dispatched to any report of illegal fireworks. Problem was, crews would often arrive on scene and find nothing – a waste of time and resources.

CP LBPlaygroundFire 3.jpg
This playground at Skylark Park in Los Banos was set ablaze, likely by fireworks, Friday, July 6, 2018, according to the Los Banos Police Department. Courtesy Los Banos Police Department

This year, those calls were left to police and arson investigators while fire trucks were reserved for confirmed fires and medical emergencies.

"Part of the call volume going down was a change in criteria," Castillo said.

In other words, the problem of illegal fireworks isn't getting better. Just Fresno's response to them.

I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that everyone agreed with my stance. My Twitter account was inundated by bots and someone left an image of a bald eagle with a tear running down its cheek.

Rod, a softball coach in Visalia, emailed to tell me columns like mine are the reason he only gets the paper on Saturdays ("For the catbox"). A kind gentleman who didn't leave his name called to say "You were an idiot when you wrote sports and you're a bigger idiot now."

So it goes.

Personally, I doubt any local politician is brave enough to take on the fireworks lobby and the non-profits who profit from their sales. Meaning nothing is likely to change. But if any of them work up the nerve to do what's right for the health and well-being of our community, they might be surprised at the public support that pours in.

I know I was.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee
  Comments