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East Bay Neighbors Baffled After Legal And Illegal 4th Of July Fireworks Spark Fires

MARTINEZ (KPIX) -- It was a busy 4th of July night for firefighters in Contra Costa County, responding to more than 50 fires, most of them sparked by fireworks. The morning after, many residents were wondering if these traditional light shows are really worth the risk.

The number of fireworks-caused fires were down this year, according to officials, and they're hoping people are starting to get the message. Still, they say, the number of illegal fireworks that were used was neither safe nor sane.

People who live on Ross Circle in Martinez got a scare Sunday night when a fire swept down a hillside toward the rear of their houses. Neighbors say they heard fireworks being used on the street above. That was shortly before Nilesh Bajaria and his wife Rupa had to hurriedly prepare to flee their home.

"People need to understand, it's not just them," Rupa said. "They need to understand they're putting other people's lives at risk, too."

Firefighters arrived quickly and fortunately, no homes were lost.

ConFire spokesperson Steve Hill said the 48 grass fires and 5 structure fires they responded to is about 20 and 40 percent fewer than last year. He said weather conditions were favorable and most residents obeyed the ban on fireworks, reporting illegal use and calling in any fires very quickly.

"So, we got some help from our residents last night and we're very thankful for that," Hill said. "We could use some more because there's still an awful lot of fireworks being used out there."

He said hundreds of pounds of fireworks were confiscated by law enforcement in the week leading up to the 4th. But the fire danger wasn't limited to illegal fireworks. The professional show at the Concord Pavilion had to be stopped twice so firefighters could extinguish small fires on the hills above, alarming some of the spectators.

"Now we have two fires. They stopped the show and I think it's too risky to continue," said spectator Ravi Shah at the event. "We should probably stop the show and that's that."

But, on Monday, Hill said the show had been approved by the Fire Marshall. He said the surrounding hills had been disked and mowed and posed no danger.

"That area was carefully abated to prevent the spread of any fires that would have started," he said. "So, the city did everything we asked them to do, and a lot more actually, to make sure that was safely conducted."

But Ambhika Nand knows the area well and doesn't think it was a good idea.

"Forget about 'good idea,' it was a very BAD idea to do that," he said.

Nand said he doesn't understand why a fireworks show would be held at a venue that backs up to dry open hills. And even if it was deemed to be "safe" he wondered about the message it sends to the public.

"This is not right telling other people, don't do it and you go ahead and do it in your backyard," he said, "which is no good at all, sir."

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