Contra Costa County firefighters face a busy Fourth of July weekend

Illegal fireworks across the Bay Area were responsible for lighting two things on the Fourth of July, the night sky and fires.

Just before 10pm Saturday night, the Contra Costa County Fire District reported responding to fourteen fires at once, most of them suspected of being started by illegal fireworks.  

Fireworks displays that have been going on for weeks hit a crescendo Saturday night.

With virtually all the professional shows cancelled, amateurs stepped in to fill the gap, which has led to a spate of fires, especially in Contra Costa County.

“Since 6 o’clock, there’s been a steady stream of pops and booms within earshot of the incident command post.  It just reminds us, it’s likely to be a very busy night,” said Chief Lewis Broschard of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

It was busy even before nightfall.

A plume of smoke filled the air as fire ate its way through dry brush near Holland Tract Road in unincorporated Brentwood.

About 60 firefighters in the eastern part of the county were on hand to stop the flames that had consumed tens of acres by Saturday evening. 

Initial reports indicate fireworks as the suspected cause.

“Moments before that there was one that popped in Brentwood, again, caused by fireworks,” said Steve Hill of ConFire, describing the list of fires being responded to at around 7:45pm.

Firefighters monitored developing fires from their mobile command post in Pittsburg.

Officials say they’re concerned fires during this hot, dry period could get out of hand, threatening property and lives.

To prepare, they’ve added additional crews and equipment through the weekend.

“We have obviously hired back additional resources from our own personnel in the fire district to staff up additional engines, bulldozers, our hand crew is on a 24-hour schedule the remainder of this weekend,” said Broschard.

ConFire says it fought 14 fires overnight, at least six are said to be fireworks related. 

Officials suspect the psychological factor of people being stuck at home has led some to boredom, and fireworks used as a potential cure, leading to a giant leap in fires. 

“We have, no exaggeration, a 400% increase in the amount of vegetation, grass fires that we’ve responded to since May 1st, as compared to last year,” said Broschard.

“The dry season is terrible for fireworks.  You know it’s just gonna create chaos I would think,” said Willy Robles.

Firefighters are focused on keeping fires like the small one that broke out near Delta View Elementary from spreading.

And investigators with ConFire will also be aiming to catch anyone responsible for using fireworks that spark flames.

“We have all four of our law enforcement officers, our dedicated fire and arson investigators are on duty tonight and are going from fire to fire, particularly those fires where it’s reported fireworks are involved and will hold people accountable, identify who’s responsible,” said Broschard. 

Firefighters are prepared for the possibility of more fireworks Sunday, but likely not as intense.

In preparation, they'll be keeping those additional resources on hand through monday morning.