Fires linked to fireworks erupt across Bay Area

San Francisco saw at least 100 fires Saturday night, with dozens more in nearby counties


Rachel Swan and Michael Cabanatuan
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — Grass fires — many linked to illegal Fourth of July fireworks — flared across the Bay Area on Saturday night, straining firefighter resources and leading authorities to beg on social media for the explosions to stop.

San Francisco saw at least 100 fires between 3 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Saturday. At dusk, a blaze chewed through 4 acres at McLaren Park, and crews scrambled to fight another fire at 50 Cargo Way in Hunters Point. The fire department tweeted about roughly 15 blazes in a single hour.

Across the bay in Contra Costa County firefighters responded to 50 fires between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. alone, a volume so extreme that by 10 p.m., they could only provide one engine for each response.

“It’s unbelievable, they’re coming so fast,” said Steve Hill, spokesman for the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. Sitting in a command vehicle on Loveridge Road in Pittsburg, he heard fireworks explode outside as more fires flared up — by 11:00 p.m., another 18 had started.

A major fire burned in Oak Hills Park in Pittsburg, at 10:41 p.m., threatening homes on nearby Clearwood Street.

Contra Costa firefighters also responded to several fireworks injuries, Hill said, including a child who was apparently hit in the eye. Trees had exploded throughout the county, likely because fireworks scattered embers in the branches, Hill said.

“If it weren’t for the fact that we’d almost doubled our resources, we’d be out at this point,” Hill said.

The Cargo Way fire near Hunters Point, which charred a patch of wetlands next to the bay, was directly linked to illegal fireworks, according to Lieutenant Jonathan Baxter. Video from Baxter showed three acres blanketed in flame, along with numerous spot fires. Crews stood guarding a solitary structure as 4th of July fireworks crackled in the distance.

At about 9:45 p.m. firefighters saved a row of motor homes from a 5 acre fire at 1199 Thomas Ave. in the Bayview. “Cause is fireworks,” officials from the department tweeted.

“We were very efficient in being able to save multiple motor homes and homeless encampment site areas within this sidewalk area,” Baxter said, his cell phone camera careening. More fireworks burst and sparkled in the background.

“If you will, please consider not using fireworks,” Baxter said. “It’s burning down the city, it’s not nice. Let’s be nice, let’s be San Franciscans. Let’s stop this. Consider doing something else.”

No injuries were reported at the Thomas Ave. location.

A fire burned at Vallejo Street and Columbus Ave. in North Beach, while separate grass fires sparked up in the Bayview, according to a string of tweets from the Fire Department.

In Marin County a 50-by-50 foot grass fire seared an area close to Highway 101 in the Marin City area. By 9:30 p.m. forward progress had stopped, the Fire Department tweeted. “Active fireworks (are) going off while the fire is burning,” the tweet said.

Alameda County firefighters scrambled to quell vegetation and structure fires in San Leandro, including one that scorched a commercial building at Neptune Drive and Williams Street. Firefighters “made a quick knockdown with no injuries,” officials tweeted.

In East Oakland, revelers tweeted videos of residents lighting mortars on residential sidewalks. Fireworks thundered over International Boulevard. streaking over shops and homes and echoing in the hills above I-580.

Richmond Police dedicated a team to fireworks suppression and confiscated “a lot of fireworks so far,” Lieutenant Matthew Stonebraker said at 10:30 p.m. He didn’t have exact numbers of citations, arrests, or the amount of fireworks seized.

Illegal fireworks have sparked a number of blazes across the Bay Area in the days leading up to Saturday night.

Four fires — two vehicle fires and two house fires — occurred in Concord about a half hour apart around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. All were quickly extinguished.

San Francisco fire officials reported that a firecracker placed in a drainpipe at 197 Edinburgh St. at 7:40 p.m. Friday shattered three windows, but no one was injured. The incident is under investigation.

In Menlo Park, a man was taken to the hospital with cuts and burns to his face and hands after a glass bottle with fireworks in it exploded, according to a news release from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

In Oakland, fire officials said that illegal fireworks had caused a fire overnight Friday in Tilden Park; it was the sixth fire in the Grizzly Peak area since early June.

Fireworks are illegal in most of the Bay Area. Even the so-called “safe and sane” fireworks can only be sold or used in 11 cities around the bay. Yet the booms, bangs and pops of illegal fireworks have been common all over the region — and across the nation — since Memorial Day. Annoyed residents have police and fire officials with complaints.

Authorities attribute the burst in illegal fireworks to people tired of being stuck in their houses blowing off a little steam — and pyrotechnics — as counties and states began to reopen their economies and as communities canceled traditional fireworks displays.

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©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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