Merced ready to celebrate Fourth of July

The flags are flying, the fireworks are ready to go and residents throughout Merced County are prepared to show their true colors – red, white and blue – as they celebrate the nation’s independence during the long Fourth of July weekend beginning today.

From parades and carnivals to barbecues and community fireworks shows, there will lots of activities to keep folks busy to celebrate the holiday. While many will enjoy smaller fireworks displays featuring the items they purchased at booths around the region, the bigger shows are expected to draw large crowds this year.

With so much concern about the potential for fires because of extremely dry conditions brought on by the drought, the big fireworks displays in the county are likely to attract even more observers this year. Fireworks will light up the sky tonight at Castle Airport, Gustine High School stadium, Memorial Park in Livingston and Veterans Memorial Stadium in Los Banos.

Closer to the ground, there will be Fourth of July parades today in Atwater, Gustine and Livingston. Floats, marching bands, veterans, emergency personnel, horses, classic cars and much more will fill the streets as thousands line parade routes to take in all the sights and sounds. Parks and other gathering spots, especially near rivers and lakes, are likely to be overflowing with temperatures hovering around triple digits all weekend.

But all those celebrations have fire officials concerned that an accident or careless act will trigger destructive blazes.

Fire officials recommend that users never light fireworks indoors, near dry grass or near flammable materials; never alter any fireworks or point them at someone; always keep a garden hose or fire extinguisher handy; and make sure people are a safe distance away before igniting fireworks. If the firing site is particularly dry, wet the ground as protection against fire.

Soaking the spent pyrotechnics in a bucket of water for at least an hour before disposing of them is a good way to avoid setting a trash can on fire, officials said.

California has zero tolerance for the sale and use of illegal fireworks, which include skyrockets, bottle rockets, Roman candles, aerial shells, firecrackers and other types that explode, go into the air or move on the ground in an uncontrollable manner, fire officials said. Penalties for using illegal fireworks in Merced County range from $1,000 to up to $3,000. Residents are urged to report illegal fireworks by calling 911

Parts of the county fall under “state responsibility,” where all pyrotechnics are forbidden, even safe and sane fireworks. The potential for wildfires is considered greater in those areas. Parts of Snelling, the outskirts of Le Grand and areas along Interstate 5 south of Los Banos are included.

Extra firefighting units will be on duty this weekend, county fire officials said.