Illegal fireworks: SF prepares for another barrage of rockets

If you thought illegal fireworks were bad last Fourth of July, this year isn’t shaping up to be much better.

If you thought illegal fireworks were bad last Fourth of July, this year isn’t shaping up to be much better.

New data obtained by The Examiner shows noise complaints skyrocketed by nearly 56 percent in San Francisco last year in the two months leading up to Independence Day, when compared to the same time period in 2019.

While the numbers are down from 2020, the explosive trend looks to be holding strong as the holiday returns this Sunday, with 32 percent more disgruntled callers reporting noise to the police than in 2019.

The Examiner was not able to confirm how many of the noise complaints were directly related to fireworks.

But the data, provided by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, reflects what many already gathered from their social media feeds last year, when disgruntled neighbors flooded sites like Nextdoor to grumble about the persistent booming and loud popping.

With the trend continuing to a lesser extent this year, observers think it has a lot to do with people being stuck at home and needing a release — even as the pandemic nears an end locally.

San Francisco fire spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Baxter said most people don’t know fireworks — even those branded as “safe and sane” — are illegal in The City, or so dangerous that a person could be disfigured.

“This is the first big holiday after the COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened or lifted in many areas,” Baxter said. “And the general population I think wants to go out and wants to party.”

Shown the data by The Examiner, Executive Director Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association said the numbers from last year are consistent with what she saw in other cities around the nation.

“The pandemic triggered so much of this,” Heckman said. “By Memorial Day 2020, people were ready to let off some steam. Basically that sparked the surge in backyard consumer fireworks sales which really did not let up all summer long.”

While she hasn’t heard so much about noise complaints or “nonstop fireworks” usage this year, Heckman said fireworks sales are off to a “brisk” start so far as the nation approaches its first major post-pandemic holiday.

“Americans are ready to not just celebrate their pride and patriotism but their independence from the COVID-19 virus,” Heckman said.

But fireworks harm more than just grumpy neighbors. The noises can be traumatic for pets and impact veterans suffering from PTSD. For concerned pet owners, fire officials recommend staying home with your animals and keeping their favorite toy nearby.

There’s also the added danger of California’s fire season starting early.

At a press conference this week, Bay Area officials begged people not to light illegal fireworks and enjoy only professional shows — like the one at Fisherman’s Wharf on Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

Cal Fire has responded to 53 percent more fires across the state this year than the five-year average.

“We need your help,” said Dwight Good, an assistant chief with Cal Fire. “Because of the drought, the fuel conditions are normally what we would see in mid- to late-August when we get the large fires.”

Even without starting a fire, officials say fireworks can cause air pollution and make it difficult to breathe. Officials recommend purchasing an air purifier to get ahead of the bad air.

Fire officials are teaming up with law enforcement to try to prevent and reduce fireworks usage through public information campaigns and by being highly visible around The City on the Fourth of July, Baxter said.

Law enforcement is also trying to curb usage by cracking down on illegal fireworks operations.

In late June, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office seized 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks and $1 million in cash while executing search warrants in various Bay Area counties including San Francisco.

Over the last two months, Cal Fire has also seized nearly 80,000 pounds of illegal fireworks along the state border with Nevada.

To reduce complaints this Fourth of July, Baxter said people are encouraged to only call 311 or the police non-emergency number (415-553-0123) if they can provide a detailed description of the person lighting off fireworks.

People should only call 911 to report fireworks that are going to cause imminent injury or property damage.

“We are really hoping that we can get a decrease in the 911 calls and the 311 calls for noise complaints,” Baxter said.

S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Ida Mojadad contributed to this report.

By the numbers:

Total noise and explosion reports to police between May 1 and June 28 by year:

2019: 3,460

2020: 5,382

2021: 4,599

Source: San Francisco Department of Emergency Management

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