It’s that time of year to bust out the barbecues and the bathing suits if you haven’t already, relax with friends and family, and kick back to some fireworks while taking a moment to be thankful for the freedoms you have in America.
But in the midst of all these patriotic parties, Fire Chief Dale Foster wants to remind residents of the danger of launching fireworks at home.
“When you’ve got thousands of people throwing burning, hot things in the air, the chances for injuries and fires is high,” Foster said.
Nationwide in 2010, 15,500 fires were started by consumer fireworks and 8,600 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association.
Remembering last year’s mishap involving a bottle rocket firework that set a Gilroy home on fire, Foster said Gilroy’s police and fire are hoping for the best this year, but preparing for the worst.
Gilroy’s fire department plans to have 12 firefighters on duty the evening of July 4, along with two fire investigators and a division chief. The police department plans to have an additional 12 patrol officers on staff that evening to specifically monitor fireworks use, according to Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.
The estimated cost to employ the extra officials this year, along with the cost of publishing literature about fireworks regulations (including a mailer that the fire department sent to every residence in Gilroy last week), is $24,000.
That cost is offset by the cut that the city takes from the fireworks distributor’s profit, Foster said.
Gilroy, the only city in Santa Clara County that allows the sales and use of fireworks, permits 16 local nonprofit organizations - such as Gilroy’s Little League, Gilroy High School Cheerleaders, Gilroy Elks and Gilroy Apostolic Assembly Church - to sell fireworks at approved locations.
Beginning July 1, Gilroy residents (and Gilroy residents only – proof of residence is required) can purchase legal, or “safe and sane” fireworks from one of these locations, while supporting a local nonprofit. Each booth usually makes between $3,000 and $30,000, said Fire Marshal Jackie Bretschneider, and aside from a $640 permit fee, all of their profit goes directly to their cause.
“Safe and sane” fireworks must have a state fire marshal approval stamp on it, and must not leave the ground or explode - such as cherry bombs, bottle rockets, Roman candles or any other aerial firework.
Police are prepared to fine or arrest anyone caught with illegal fireworks, and the consequences aren’t cheap. Depending on the circumstance, those caught with illegal fireworks could be issued a city citation for $250, or slapped with a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine.
Humans aren’t the only ones that fireworks put at risk - dogs, who have a bizarre fear of explosive noises, are prone to get spooked and run away from home.
“I’ve seen dogs clear 6 foot fences during fireworks, they were so spooked,” said Brigid Wasson of the San Martin Animal Shelter.
Last year, Wasson said the shelter picked up 10 stray dogs on July 5, and had plenty more people calling looking for their lost dogs.
Wasson said that dogs are best kept indoors or enclosed crates the night of July 4.
WHAT TO DO AROUND TOWN
There’s good reason for South Valley residents to stay in town besides avoiding all that holiday traffic: This year’s Independence Day celebration in Morgan Hill is going to be bigger than ever, according to Charles Weston, event president.
Morgan Hill’s annual Freedom Fest, which began more than 100 years ago, is a two-day family-friendly shindig with all kinds of patriotic events such as a music festival, car show, 5K run, and of course, a parade and fireworks.
“We are looking forward to it being a really fabulous Fourth of July experience,” Weston said. “We want everyone to make these two days time well spent with family.”
Weston said the Freedom Fest committee went all out for their fireworks display this year, which is scheduled to start when it gets dark on Wednesday at the Morgan Hill Community Park on West Edmundson Road. The committee spent $18,000, which is about $1,500 more than they’ve ever spent before.
The free show, in turn, should be the biggest, brightest and most boisterous (event planners spent extra money specifically on “sonic boom” noises for the show) Morgan Hill has ever had, according to Weston.
The Community Park will open at 4 p.m. before the show, during which time people can chow on treats from the many diverse food trucks. Adventurous eaters may want to try a kabob from Arabian Bites, or homemade macaroni and cheese from Soulnese. But don’t worry, Independence Day traditionalists - hot-dogs and kettlecorn is on the menu as well.
New to this year’s celebration is a 100K bike tour on June 30, which begins in northeast Morgan Hill and takes advanced cyclists through loops in the rolling hills of San Martin and Gilroy. Shorter tours, including a 30-mile tour, a 13-mile tour and a 6-mile tour are also available for intermediate cyclists and families with young children.
Other event highlights include the Patriotic Sing, where elementary-aged children perform American anthems and patriotic tunes at Britton Middle School at 6 p.m. on July 3, and the Freedom Run, where hundreds of locals tackle a 5K together at 8:15 a.m. at P.A. Walsh Elementary School.
“These events highlight the small town values that define our region,” Weston said. “It’s all about family.”
Freedom Fest draws in more than 100,000 people between all the events, with 50,000 attending the parade, Weston said. This year, more than 2,500 people are participating in the parade, which begins at 10 a.m. July 4 at Monterey Road and Fourth Street, and loops around Main Avenue, Peak Avenue, and Dunne Avenue before ending where it started.
Despite the magnetic effect Morgan Hill’s events have on the entire Bay Area, Weston said that locals can still expect to experience a sense of small-town camaraderie.
“Our event is more relaxed, quieter, more respectful and more family orientated than events in larger cities. You are bound to run into people you know walking around,” Weston said.
“This is the how the true Fourth of July experience is done,” he said.