Illegal fireworks light up San Jose skies

San Jose erupted in illegal fireworks Thursday night, as it has on every Fourth of July in memory.

In Alviso, at the north end of the city, rockets were bursting even before dark.  

From 9 to 10 p.m.commercial-grade fireworks were launching from several streets in a five-block area, resembling a professional show. 

Spectators lined the sidewalks, many in lawn chairs, and block parties spilled across driveways and yards.

San Jose has tried to curb illegal fireworks in recent years, with outreach and enforcement, but it hasn't made much of a difference in areas where they are an entrenched tradition.   

While Alviso seems tolerant of the pyrotechnics, other San Jose residents take a different view. 

"There are hard-core people who are selfish and self-centered, they don't care about pets, or wildlife, or veterans with PTSD," said fireworks watchdog Jeff Levine. "And they obviously don't care about being disfigured by an exploding firework, or even killed."

Levine is among the concerned residents pressing San Jose Police to take the fireworks threat more seriously.  

"It's the good old boy network," said Suzanne Morrone, another critic. "They say it's fun, a bunch of guys having a good time, and it's what they've always done, why should the police do anything about it?"

Morrone spent the holiday hosing her yard and house against any flying sparks.

She believes it's unreasonable for residents like herself to be expected to document violations with video evidence. 

"They expect us to go out there when somebody's actually setting off fireworks, although the police are afraid to intervene, and they want everyday citizens to take a picture," she said.

In the Blossom Valley area, a community celebration was held for the sixth year, as an antidote to illegal displays.

"I heard fireworks in the hills while we were setting up," San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis told KTVU. 

Khamis is convinced that the sanctioned fireworks show at Almaden Lake Park makes a difference by providing an alternative. 

"The illegal fireworks around here have subsided substantially," said Khamis. "It's a little carrot, a little stick, everybody wants to enjoy the Fourth of July and everyone likes fireworks."

Asked about the lack of enforcement of the fireworks ban?

"It's hard, someone lights a firecracker and runs, how you going to chase them down, it's a fleeting crime," Khamis said. 

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, online reporting tallied more than 100 incidents of illegal fireworks going off.

Levine recorded many with his home security system.

He says he'd like to have the freedom to attend a sponsored fireworks show, but he is afraid to leave his property.

"We're prisoners in our own houses because of everything going on around us," complained Levine. "And I have to make sure the house doesn't burn down."

In preparation, San Jose Fire staffed-up and placed engines strategically in known hot spots.

The department urges complainants to take photos of fireworks being set and do not hesitate to report a neighbor.

"We remind them, their neighbors are putting them at risk, by using illegal fireworks right next to their house," said Deputy Fire Chief Michael Van Elgort. "The hills are dry so just a small spark can cause a catastrophic wildfire, like what we saw in Paradise." 

The light show started to subside around 11 p.m. in Alviso, although residents said random fireworks would continue to rattle the neighborhood throughout the night.