Safe and Sane fireworks are shown. COURTESY PHOTO

Imperial County’s ‘Facebook Fires’ Had Little to Do with Fireworks

While it appears El Centro and Calexico police departments reported an excess of calls on Independence Day this year attributed to illegal fireworks, none of the seven minor blazes Valley-wide that fire crews responded to that night could be traced to fireworks, legal or otherwise.

Although social media was alight with “Facebook fires” posters and commenters were certain were caused by fireworks, calls to fire departments in Calexico, El Centro, Brawley, Calipatria and with Imperial County fire on July 5 revealed none of the reported fires were found to be tied to fireworks, personnel from each department confirmed.

For sure, though, home firework usage appeared to be increased this year as more families were home and annual mass fireworks displays such as Freedom Fest and Calipatria’s reoccurring display were canceled due to stay-at-home orders amid the COVID pandemic.

Calls to El Centro police dispatch numbered more than 30 between the hours of 8 p.m. July 4 and 2 a.m. July 5 implying illegal fireworks, describing either excessively loud fireworks or those that go into the sky.

Safe and Sane fireworks, the only kind safely permitted in California, do not leave the ground and are not overly loud, Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said.

“We had lots of report in Calexico and all over the Valley for that matter,” he said. Gerardo said there wasn’t much that could be done, so he just instructed Calexico police to drive around and urge caution if someone wasn’t being caught in the act using illegal fireworks.

Gerardo was at home with his family Independence Day evening and could see the illegal fireworks seemingly going up into the air above every third home in his neighborhood.

Aside from seeing the illegal fireworks, the chief said it was nice witnessing families in their front yards setting off Safe and Sane fireworks.

“People needed that. People needed to get their minds off of COVID for a while,” Gerardo said.

Local fire stations reported seven minor fires in the Imperial County on July 4.

“There were three fires last night (July 4) in Brawley. One was a trash can fire. The second was a residential fire that also burned a fence and a power pole, the third fire was a brush fire,” Brawley Firefighter Andrew Romo said during a July 5 phone call.

Romo did not know the cause of the fires said none was suspected to be related to fireworks.

“Obviously, this year there was a lot more fireworks used because the local fireworks shows were cancelled, but none of the fires were started by fireworks,” Romo said.

“We did not have any fires in Calipatria, but I heard there were a few in Brawley. We had a lot of illegal fireworks and some of the mortars,” Calipatria Firefighter David Ramirez said. “We transfer them to PD and it’s up to the acting authority if they get cited. Last night, we patrolled the streets in two fire trucks and the fire chief was there. There were a lot of illegal fireworks.”

Calipatria fire caught two people with illegal fireworks on July 4 and referred them to local law enforcement but Ramirez was not aware if citations were issued.

Still reeling from last week’s devastating fire in Niland, Ramirez mentioned that Calipatria firefighters had been busy at the Calipatria High School donation center July 4 and 5 sorting out supplies and will continue to take donations for those affected by the fire.

Unlike reports from the Los Angeles area, where news helicopter and aerial drone footage showed that city’s night sky bursting with the high-flying ordnance, Imperial County fire officials reported they had a relatively calm night.  

There was one fire within the Imperial County Fire Department’s domain, said county Battalion Chief Juan Rodelo, who was aware of the false Facebook rumors about fires being caused by fireworks.

“The one fire in the vicinity of the city of El Centro (was) on Ross and La Brucherie,” said Rodelo, who could not give the cause of the fire but said it was not fireworks.

“There were no reports of increased usage of fireworks in the log, but it was on social media. The county didn’t receive a single call about firework use or illegal fireworks in any of our nine stations,” said Rodelo.  

The use of fireworks, even Safe and Sane fireworks, is forbidden in the unincorporated areas of the county. They are legal in most of the cities, Gerardo said.

“There were two minor fires in the city of El Centro; one tree fire and one in a bathroom. Neither one was confirmed to be caused by fireworks. There was one the county responded to. A small fire in a field,” said an unidentified El Centro firefighter on a July 5 phone call, mentioning he did not see an increase in fireworks use or hear of any complaints.

Calexico Firefighter Hernandez, who did not give his first name, said Calexico received no information or complaints regarding an increase in fireworks use and reported the city had no fires on Independence Day evening.

People were warned not to use hand sanitizer around fireworks because it is made of alcohol from updates via news and radio.

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