Crime - Sacto 911

Crews responded to 73 fires within Sacramento city limits on ‘daunting’ July 4 night

Firefighters spent an exhausting Fourth of July responding to dozens of calls across the Sacramento region, as legal and illegal fireworks boomed through the night Thursday.

Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Capt. Keith Wade said crews responded to 73 fire-related calls to dispatch, all within city limits, between 7 p.m. Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday.

This encompassed “every sort of fire you can think of,” Wade said. “Grass fire, tree fire, house fire, car fire, garbage fire, dumpster fire.”

Wade, who worked the holiday last year and has worked many Fourth of July shifts, also called it a “daunting task,” even for Sacramento’s fully staffed fire department.

“My personal opinion is that the fire department was very busy last night and busier than last year,” Wade told The Bee on Friday morning. Wade had previously told The Bee on July 5, 2018, that the prior night was one of the worst he’d ever seen in terms of fire call volume and illegal fireworks.

Wade said he spent much of the night stationed in south Sacramento, and that illegal firework activity is most frequent there and in north Sacramento.

“Downtown is relatively quiet,” he said.

Wade said he rode with Sacramento Fire Chief Gary Loesch at one point. Loesch, who assumed the position in 2018 after 30 years in Philadelphia, told Wade he was “surprised” by the amount of illegal fireworks in Sacramento.

Illegal fireworks are relatively easy to classify – anything that goes up into the sky and isn’t part of an officially sanctioned show – and Wade said he observed “huge amounts” of the illegal displays Thursday night throughout the city.

However, Wade pointed out that fireworks-related incidents are not typically labeled by whether the fireworks that caused them are legal or illegal. With so much activity in one night, it’s a tough fact to prove.

“The difficulty in determining that is you need to have basically an eyewitness who is staying on-scene to have some sort of report,” he said. “You can imagine the difficulty in pinpointing that.”

When they are reported, Sacramento Fire Department’s arson fire investigation unit looks into the incidents. One fire last year was determined to be caused by an illegal display after the sparks set fire to a roof.

The causes are still officially being investigated in the vast majority of those 73 fires. Wade also mentioned that any firework being set off in the city after midnight Friday is against the law.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, which covers much of the remainder of Sacramento County, reported an unofficial count of 16 fire-related or “holiday activity” fires, spokeswoman Diana Schmidt said. That encompasses everything from fires started by legal or illegal fireworks to things like barbecue grilling fires.

“We’re still collecting all the data on what was fireworks related,” Schmidt said Friday morning.

Sacramento’s illegal fireworks mitigation task force, created last year, expanded from 13 members in 2018 to 17 this year, split between police, fire personnel, sheriff’s deputies and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.

In its first year, the task force seized more than 2,300 pounds of illegal fireworks before the July 4 holiday. This year, the task force has been active since June 1, continuing through Friday.

Calm winds Thursday were one silver lining mentioned by Wade, who said gusty conditions could have significantly heightened the risk of bigger fires.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.