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Bay Area Fire Departments Overwhelmed After Illegal Fireworks Spark Dozens of Blazes

CONCORD (KPIX) -- Bay Area fire officials warned that illegal fireworks were creating an extreme fire danger leading into the Fourth of July holiday and it looks like their predictions came true.

At more than 10 acres, a fire just off Highway 4 on the border of Pittsburg and Concord was the largest in Contra Costa on Saturday night but it was by no means the only one.

With windy, drier-than-usual conditions, fire crews spent the evening running from fire to fire sparked by amateur pyrotechnics. Fires in Antioch, Brentwood and West Oakland. A blaze in McLaren Park in San Francisco was just one of the 100 fires reported by SFFD and, in the San Jose hills, when the fireworks started at dusk, they just didn't stop.

"Just a significant amount of illegal fireworks activity," said Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Capt. George Laing, "almost to the point where the noise is continuous. That the flashes and bangs are continuous for hours at a time."

Laing said, between their engines, hand crews and bulldozers, ConFire had about 60 additional firefighters on duty and responded to 67 fire calls overnight. Laing said most of the grass fires were small ones, like one near a school parking lot in San Pablo. But the sheer number of outbreaks severely stretched resources.

"The fireworks activity that occurred last night and number of fires were so extreme that we were reduced to a single engine response to what normally would have been a full-alarm assignment," he said.

A woman named Vera, who lives near the school, said the fireworks had been relentless all week with some of them being touched off right in the middle of the busy street. She said, with public fireworks shows canceled and people stuck in their homes, the nightly amateur displays are really a form of rebellion.

"That's their way of doing something," she said. "Control -- it's their control. They're going to say, 'well, I'm not going to have people tell me what I can and can't do.'"

But those who fight the fires say it's a dangerous game to play.

"Each one of those is a potential ignition," said Capt. Laing. "It could be somebody's home. It could be uncontrolled vegetation that burns towards neighborhoods or homes. All of it is extraordinarily dangerous."

"You see what happened in Sonoma," Vera said, "the whole neighborhood caught on fire. The same thing could happen here."

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