The AmericaFest Independence Day fireworks display at the Rose Bowl has been cancelled due to the pandemic this year, but officials are responding to five times the usual amount of fireworks complaints.
Police and fire officials said they’re not certain why so many Pasadenans have taken an interest in putting on their own amateur, and illegal, pyrotechnic shows, but officials suspected the cancellation of the traditional fireworks display, combined with the effects of boredom brought on by pandemic restrictions, are likely playing a role.
“Calls for Service regarding fireworks are up close to 500% for the month of June as compared to the two previous years,” Pasadena police Lt. William Grisafe said.
Police saw 118 fireworks-related calls in 2019, with 86 of them taking place during June, according to the lieutenant.
“Through the 23rd of June 2020, we have already had 500 calls for service,” he said.
Both police and fire officials have stepped up their enforcement efforts in response.
“The teams are not only looking for anyone in possession of or using fireworks, but also responding to calls for service and issuing citations to property owners who are allowing fireworks to be shot from their property,: Grisafe said. “We have issued five such citations and collected over 200 pounds of fireworks.”
One person was arrested in May for possession of a “large quantity” of fireworks, he added.
Police confiscated about 175 pounds of fireworks last year, he added.
“Fireworks injure people, start fires and are illegal. Do not use fireworks,” Grisafe said.
All fireworks are illegal in the city, according to Interim Fire Chief Bryan Frieders.
“The concern that we have from the fire department’s perspective, because the fireworks show isn’t happening at the Rose bowl is that some people want to take the show into their own hands and do it on their own properties. And that’s an extreme danger, not only for the community, but also for individuals who use those illegal fireworks,” he said.
“The potential for someone to become injured, blow off a hand, burn their eyes out, catch themselves on fire is very high because those fireworks are just not safe. Even the ones that they say are “Safe and Sane,” there’s nothing safe and nothing sane about fireworks, period.”
Despite the inordinate amount of celebratory ordnance being launched into the air, the fire department had seen just two small vegetation or rubbish fires believed to have been sparked by fireworks, the chief said.
Beefed up efforts in recent days appeared to be having an impact, he added.
“As of Tuesday morning, we began patrolling with our fire department vehicles in the areas where we see a high concentration of fireworks calls,” Frieders said. “We’ve been very fortunate to see a reduction in the calls for service for the fire department for fireworks over the last couple of days, almost to the point where it’s about half of what we were seeing last week.”
Officials were keeping an extra keen eye on Pasadena’s hillside communities.
While the cancellation of AmericaFest will be missed by countless regular spectators, it, along with other cancellations across the country due to the pandemic, have dealt a severe blow to the livelihood of the Souza family, who have been running the fireworks at the Rose Bowl for decades.
“Hanging in there would be a generous way of putting it,” Paul Souza said. “Really scraping by and scratching by might be the more correct way of putting it.”
The family business normally books between 350 and 400 fireworks shows for Independence Day observances, he said.
“It makes up 60 percent of our annual revenue, that week around the 4th of July. And we’re looking at less than 50 this year,” Souza said.
“This disease hit our shores right at our peak busy season,” he said. “All of our spring revenue is mostly driven through baseball, and there’s no baseball.”
But even without a local professional show to direct people to as an alternative, Souza said he, too, strongly urged the public not to set off fireworks themselves.
“Don’t do it. It’s illegal and it’s dangerous. And you know what wildfires look like in California,” he said.
Pasadena isn’t the only city that’s seen a spike in private pyrotechnics.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced last week that his office was targeting the online sales of fireworks.
“Almost every corner of L.A. is facing what seems like an enormous increase in illegal fireworks activity when so many of us are already on edge because of the virus,” Feuer said in a written statement. “Between the very real risk of injuries and the unacceptable impact on Veterans with PTSD, kids with special needs and our pets, the nightly onslaught of illegal fireworks we’re experiencing needs to stop.”
L.A. Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette reminded the public that animals don’t deal well with fireworks, either.
“A scared dog or cat can quickly slip through an open door or a tiny break in the fence and get lost,” she said. “Fireworks have other risks for animals too. They can cause burns or be ingested which can be fatal. Please keep your animals safely indoors in a room, play soft music and give them a few of their favorite toys. They’ll like it even better if you stay safer at home with them.”