Setting: In the background, the blue-green coastal hills just west of Winters are obliterated with dull, gray, choking smoke, that just gets thicker as the hours tick away and firefighters try desperately, and ineffectively, to get hold of the latest wildfire scorching the land. In the foreground, “safe and sane” fireworks stands are doing healthy business.
What’s wrong with this picture?
No, not the obvious irony — it’s that fireworks sales are allowed at all in California, which is nothing but a vast sea of kindling from June through October. The rationale: these are great fundraisers for local youth sports teams.
No. Just NO. This is dumbshittery at its pathetic worst.
First off, sports teams – sell cookies. Wrapping paper. Offer community services. Raise the prices at your snack shacks. Do a boot drive, a swim fin drive, or just start a GoFundMe. There is absolutely no rationale for risking the property and lives of people statewide, of destroying vast acres of natural lands and endangering and even killing animals both wild and domestic, just so ya’ll can play Little League or be on the swim team for $10 less. Enough’s enough. The pyrotechnics party must end.
Hey, here’s an idea: How about if the sports teams and other non-profits that raise money through fireworks sales be required to donate their proceeds to a California fire-fighting fund, and only collect the money that’s leftover?
Short scenario: Ain’t nobody collecting a dime, because it will all go to fighting fires, and it will amount to less than 1% of the millions upon millions, and even billions, in damages that happen due to fires in California every single year.
Unlike states that enjoy four seasons, California only has two: Fire Season and Not Fire Season. Why on earth should anyone be encouraged to light sparking fires in the heart of Fire Season?
Here in Winters, with the County Fire blazing on and at this moment, 44,500 acres scorched and only 3% containment after fire crews have battled this blaze all of yesterday, last night and today, to even entertain the idea of hundreds of happy idiots blithely lighting miniature explosive devices on fire on every block is jaw-droppingly stupid.
At least our City Manager had the good sense to cancel the annual July 3 (yes, July 3) fireworks display, for a variety of reasons, including very poor air quality right now, as well as the fact that with an active fire burning in the hills, and lives and property on the line, if emergency crews need to get through on the one and only highway that leads to that area, the last thing they need is to attempt to navigate through streets choked with cars and people from the thousands that descend upon our town to see free fireworks every year.
And why do all these people come to Winters? Because the cities where they live don’t allow them! Surrounding areas have wised up — no fireworks displays, no fireworks sales. Why? Because they’re smarter than we are! What does Winters get out of this gig? NOTHING! They ask people to donate to the fireworks, but the vast majority park themselves outside the school grounds so they don’t have to drop a buck or two in the donation can. It’s lunacy!
In addition to clogging the town with people and cars, these folks buy their fireworks here and then settle in on any random corner or parking lot and set off their Block Party packs. When all the fun is over, they pack up and leave the charred trash right there for our city crews to clean up. Our city doesn’t make a dime from these folks, but it spends quite a few.
Oh, but meanwhile, the sports teams are cheering because they’ve made money. The city and community would be better off to donate funds to the teams in exchange for banning fireworks sales. Adding in fire crews running to this and that lawn or roof fire started by fireworks, and the city might come out ahead by banning fireworks and giving the teams money.
This is the fifth July in a row that rural Winters and the hills to the west suffered wildfires that turned the sky gray and the sun into a red, glowing ball, and the air became acrid with smoke. Our cars and sidewalks are covered with a film of ash, and our lungs and sinuses probably are as well. And we have four more months of Fire Season to go, and plenty of kindling-covered hills and fields primed to go up in smoke with one spark.
For me, this was the third year in a row that I stood guard along with my stable pals near Lake Solano where we board our horses, but this year was different. Whereas the last two years, we merely stood guard and fretted, this year, mid-afternoon, a sheriff’s posse officer pulled onto the property and said we needed to get the horses out NOW.
There are about 40 horses on that property. Some of the owners were out of town. There were not enough horse trailers for all of the horses, even if everyone was there. We asked if we could go and drop horses off and come back. The answer was “no.” We were told that once we left, we would not be allowed back in.
In the case of me and my stable sisters, all together, we were two trailer spaces short. So, what do you do? Flip a coin to see whose horse stays back and maybe burns to death? Luckily for us, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Posse brought in a trailer and rescued the odd-man-out horses, one of which was my own beloved Pendragon. Thankfully, the horses were all safely rescued, and all the other horses were eventually evacuated as well. No small feat when you consider that in addition to the emergency situation, horses aren’t exactly the most cooperative animals when they are terrified and smell smoke. And, they weigh about 1,500 pounds each.
Thankfully, they all made it out alive, and the stable is still standing. This time. For now. The fire, as I said, is only 3% contained at this moment, and the wind could kick back up any time.
But what if the wind had shifted yesterday in a moment? What if our only choice was to leave our horses or die? Only those who’ve never loved a horse with all their hearts would say, “Just leave.”
Now true, the County Fire likely wasn’t started by fireworks. However, the Cold Fire (I think that was the name — there’ve been so many that I’ve lost track) was started by campers out near Monticello Dam setting off fireworks under dry, windy conditions. That particular fire turned the beautiful Stebbins Cold Canyon into ash. It was heartbreaking. Was losing that pristine nature preserve worth setting off a few Piccolo Petes or Sparkling Showers or Flaming Dollar Bills (what they all should really be called)? Let’s give that a collective “HAYULL NO.”
There are those who object to the notion of a long-overdue fireworks ban and say, “Well, this fire wasn’t started by fireworks.” Fair enough. But will the next one be? Why the hell would you even take that risk? How stupid are you? Do you put on your own pants in the morning or do you require assistance?
Is it fair to have fire crews go running around after little front lawn fires while acres of dry brush are being gulped by flames and racing toward someone’s home and livestock herd? I’d say the only fair thing in that situation would be to tell the fireworks-lovin’ homeowners to bust out the garden hose because they created their own problem through nothing but sheer, grotesque stupidity.
Add to all that the massive air pollution from all the sidewalk fireworks displays and the impact on local creeks and streams after all the ash and debris is washed into city drains, as well as all the trips to emergency rooms from “safe and sane” fireworks accidents, and there is just not a single valid reason to allow fireworks in California, and maybe anywhere else either.
Safe and Sane? What a JOKE. The ONLY “safe and sane” solution is to ban all fireworks sales in California. Period. We have enough trouble fighting fires caused by other things than to risk igniting another one just for the sake of simple entertainment or to save $10 on the registration fee for our kids to play sports.