Illegal fireworks likely sparked dozens of East Bay fires

Despite weeks of warnings, there was a non-stop barrage of illegal fireworks sparking some fires and fears across several East Bay communities.

Oakland's firefighters were busy the night of July Fourth and into the morning with a 20% increase in normal call volume because of reports of illegal fireworks.

"Crews were up all night running," said Interim Fire Chief Damon Covington. "It's frustrating but at the same time, it's expected."

While just two small fires were sparked and snuffed out, big piles of fireworks debris littering many Oakland streets has some East Oakland neighbors concerned.

"This is the domino effect of senselessness that people don't understand the whole picture of," said Marie Ortiz of Oakland. "They're bombs. It's not fireworks with a little sparkle. This is just like, bam!"

Ortiz said the fireworks not only frightened her dog, but her 94-year-old mother who suffers from dementia and sister who's on oxygen.

"There's tanks in there," she said. "You blow up my house, the whole house is going to go on fire."

Firefighters in Antioch are investigating whether fireworks caused a fire that badly damaged a home and cars.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District said 11 fires within a six-hour period from 8 p.m. on July 4, to 2 a.m. on July 5 were known to have been caused by fireworks. Another 51 fires from that same time period are suspected to have been caused by fireworks, officials said.  

One person was severely injured in one of those fires. 

Firefighters from the department were dispatched to 69 fire incidents in total during those hours. 

Although some parts of the Bay Area permit limited use of fireworks, they are illegal throughout Contra Costa County.

In neighboring Alameda County, two fires were likely caused by fireworks including a home in Union City along Begonia Street and a vegetation fire in the 17000 block of Lake Chabot Road, the Alameda County Fire Department said. Flames spread to six acres before becoming contained.

"The Fourth of July is one day," Covington said. "But we're squarely into fire season."

KTVU cameras recorded colorful explosions above the skylines of Oakland and San Jose late into the night while a San Francisco viewer shared footage of fireworks illuminating the city.

The smoke caused by the fireworks also elevated fine particulate pollution readings across the Bay Area.

"During those three hours that the fireworks went off, we saw a 10-fold increase in concentrations of particulate," said Charley Knoderer with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "The best thing to do is stay inside, in a room with filtered air."

The air district said it can be aggravating to those with asthma and other breathing-related issues.

Ortiz said it's very difficult on her mother who is battling lung cancer.

"You intensify it with the fireworks. Bad combination," she said. "It makes me want to move."

Oakland Police said officers prevented several large gatherings citywide where fireworks traditionally occur. The department did not provide any details about fireworks-related citations.

For the third year, officials closed Grizzly Peak to keep people from congregating, however, there is concern illegal firework activity could continue for several days or weeks.

"We are not out of the weeds by any means, literally," Covington said. "We’re just waiting and preparing for if we do have a major wild land fire, we’ll be ready."

Brooks Jarosz is a reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU