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Worst Night Ever for Illegal Fireworks, Says Fresno Fire Department
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 years ago on
July 6, 2020

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One look at the Fresno sky on Saturday night might have told you it was the worst night ever for illegal fireworks. Confirmation came from events on the ground.

“There were three-and-half hours of non-stop aerial fireworks, which are illegal, over Fresno on Saturday night. The firefighters I talked to said they had never seen anything like it. Fireworks were going off in every part of the city.” — Shane Brown, public information officer, Fresno Fire Department

According to the Fresno Fire Department, it answered 135 calls for fires on the Fourth of July. And, at 10:18 p.m. overwhelmed crews stopped responding to medical emergency requests — unless it was for cardiac arrest — for nearly three hours.

The department responded to 78 fires on the Fourth of July last year.

“There were three-and-half hours of non-stop aerial fireworks, which are illegal, over Fresno on Saturday night,” said Fresno Fire Department Public Information Officer Shane Brown on Monday. “The firefighters I talked to said they had never seen anything like it. Fireworks were going off in every part of the city.”

Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez tweeted “I’ve never seen it this bad! Police and fire departments are swamped and can’t respond to real emergencies.”

High Call Volume on Sunday, Too

All together, Fresno fire crews responded to a total of 211 calls Saturday. At 3 a.m. Sunday, Brown said, the department was still fighting 14 fires.

The department fielded 184 calls for service on Sunday as well. That brought the 48-hour total to 395 — a 60% increase over July 4-5 last year, Brown said.

Miraculously, perhaps, there were no reports of injuries to residents or firefighters.

Watch: Fresno Fire Battles Blaze in 4000 Block of East Platt Avenue

Sheriff’s Dispatchers Answer More Than 1,000 Calls

Dispatchers for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office answered more than 1,000 calls on Saturday, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said Monday. Six hundred calls came through the 911 emergency line, and 428 were for non-emergencies.

However, last year’s Fourth of July calls totaled 1,224, Botti said, although only 393 of those came in on the 911 line.

“We filtered calls that would likely meet the criteria for fireworks from this past Saturday,” Botti said in a news release. “Keywords included:  Fireworks, fire, and public hazard.  There were a total of 234.
One thing to note is that if, for example, five people called in a report for fireworks in one particular area, that gets merged into one call, so that is why the 234 number may seem lower than you would expect.”

Fresno Police Turned Off ShotSpotter

Sgt. Jeff LaBlue, spokesman for the Fresno Police Department, said Monday that the department received about 4,000 calls for service on July 4, “which is normal for a Saturday night in the summer.”

But, with illegal fireworks exploding all over the city, the department deactivated its ShotSpotter technology. That system helps officers quickly detect and respond to gunshots.

Fireworks Exploding All Over

Well before the holiday, states all over the nation reported that people were setting off fireworks in large numbers.

Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, reported a 200% increase in fireworks sales over last year.

Two popular explanations for the surge: the cancelation of public displays because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and people looking to blow off steam while being under lockdown orders.

In Los Angeles, firefighters responded to thousands of emergency calls Saturday and extinguished at least one large blaze that consumed half an apartment complex in Northridge, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Watch: CBS47 Time-Lapse Video of Illegal Fresno Fireworks

https://www.facebook.com/CBS47/videos/324516278951125/

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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