Bay Area residents warned to be careful with fireworks amid ongoing drought

PETALUMA, Calif. (KTVU) - Hot weather, dry conditions, and the 4th of July. It's a combustible combination, and as fireworks vendors open around the Bay Area, buyers are warned to be especially careful this year.

About a dozen Bay Area municipalities still allow sales of the state certified "safe and sane" variety, which don't fly or explode, but can still cause harm.

"Conditions this year are extremely dry," Petaluma Fire Marshal Cary Fergus told KTVU, "so the fireworks have to be used in the street, with buckets of water or a hose nearby, and kids under adult supervision at all times."

On Monday Fergus and his inspectors were finishing permit inspections for 17 fireworks stands that will begin sales on June 30.

Petaluma's code specifies that buyers are not allowed to set off any of their purchases until the holiday on Saturday, but that's a restriction almost impossible to enforce.

Fireworks are a crucial fundraiser for many non-profits organizations, mostly sports and youth groups.

"We're one of the few last cities that still offer this," Petaluma Fire Inspector Corinne Barclay told KTVU, "and we want people to be responsible, especially during a drought. So we try to educate them."

Barclay was examining a final booth, at the corner of Stony Point Road and North Petaluma Boulevard.

It did not receive a permit because overgrown grass on the vacant lot needed to be mowed in a twenty foot perimeter around all fireworks.

"The plan is to open a ten a.m. Tuesday, so we'll be out here early weed-eating," declared Donnie Frank of Petaluma Youth Lacrosse.

In five days of sales, the booth will earn between $4,000 and $5,000 for the organization, serving children age 5 to 16.

"I would say it's probably a third of our fund-raising money so it helps us keep our registration fees down for players," Frank explained.

A late afternoon fire on Anna Way in Petaluma was not fireworks related, but served as a reminder of how fast fire can grow.

"I couldn't think, I went from calm to panic," Ann Rihtarshich told KTVU, recounting how she grabbed her children and pets as the house next to hers was burning.

Several rooms were damaged by flame and smoke, and three residents displaced.

"It was definitely a lesson, a huge lesson," exclaimed Rihtarshich, "because you realize you need to have your valuable papers ready in an envelope, to grab and go. Have a plan."

Good advice, any time of year.