By Jeri Davis with additional reporting by Carla O’Day and Don Dike Anukam
Just days after the first big fire of the season scorched thousands of acres on Peavine Mountain, local fire officials from the Reno Fire Department (RFD) and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District are reminding citizens that fireworks in Reno and Washoe County are both dangerous and illegal.
These types of warnings are issued by RFD and TMFPD each year in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July. This year, however—with several approved fireworks displays canceled and large gatherings to view the planned displays banned—the departments could have more to worry about from Washoe County residents who’ve been cooped up inside during quarantine.
While fighting last Friday’s Poeville Fire on Peavine, fire officials had to deal with complications caused by people trying to get a look at the fire either with drones or in-person.
Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Deputy Chief of Operations Alex Kukulus told This Is Reno reporter Don Dike-Anukam, “We had a real problem today with people wanting to see the fire. They were up in their trucks and their ATVs along the hillside. We had to divert many of our resources to get them out of there, rather than fighting fire. So, we need [people] to stay out of our way … I mean, I’ve personally spent an hour or two chasing people off the hillside rather than doing what we should be doing.”
There will be a permitted Damonte Ranch fireworks display on Saturday, July 4, at 9 p.m. People are being advised to live stream it from their homes or watch it on Channel 11, as no gatherings are permitted for the event.
Heavy penalties, potential for injury and fire
In a release sent out on Monday, June 30, RFD officials noted:
“No fireworks are legal, except public fireworks displays permitted through the Fire Department having jurisdiction. Even though it may be legal to purchase fireworks in some locations outside of Washoe County, it is illegal to possess or use fireworks and/or pyrotechnics within the City of Reno and in the unincorporated areas of Washoe County.”
Just being in possession of fireworks can lead to fines of up to $1,000—and possibly up to six months in jail for each offense. Laws also provide for seizure and forfeiture of all such materials from individuals by law enforcement.
Capable of reaching temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, fireworks are hot enough to cause third degree burns and severe injury, as well as damage sight and hearing.
Fireworks could also ignite wildfires in dry brush and trees.
“If your pyrotechnic activities cause property damage or bodily injury, the financial consequences can be significant,” Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer said in the release. “The local fire jurisdictions will seek for cost recovery, and fighting a fire caused by negligent activity can be expensive.”
Kukulus said, “We need everybody to be extra diligent about not causing additional fires or any other issues. If we have any other fires at this point in time, it’s going to be extremely difficult for resources to handle…Please, stay home and don’t do anything to start a fire…Stay home for COVID for the fire department.”
North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Fire Chief Ryan Sommers said the same rules apply to the Lake Tahoe Basin.
“We would like to remind folks that fireworks are illegal to possess or discharge on any property, including U.S. Forest Service, public or private in the Tahoe Basin,” Sommers said.
Officials stress alternative activities
Those who may be in possession of illegal fireworks and would like to get rid of them in a safe and responsible manner can do so through RFD’s amnesty program. According to the release, people “can turn them into a fire station, no questions asked. For more information, contact RFD’s Division of Fire Prevention at 775-334-2300.”
For those in doubt about the potential dangers of setting off fireworks themselves, the RFD published some facts concerning fires sparked by them:
“The National Fire Protection Association reports that fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires in 2018, including 1,900 structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 17,100 other fires. These fires caused five deaths, 46 civilian injuries, and $105 million in property damage.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in 2018, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,100 people for fireworks-related injuries; half of those injuries were to extremities, and 34 percent were to the eye or other parts of the head. Children younger than 15 accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of the estimated 2018 injuries.”
Locally, fireworks consistently result in calls for first responders across the valley on Fourth of July, too.
Reno Fire Department Chief Dave Cochran said, “We look at the week before and the week after because they’re out there, but on the Fourth, we track them specifically. And it hits us and [the Reno Police Department.]…In 2017, we had 128 calls, and that was just between 6 p.m. to 2 a.m on the Fourth.”
In 2018, the number was similar. Cochran said the department was trying to track down those numbers for 2019, but they were not available prior to publication of this story.
“First of all, they’re illegal,” Cochran said. “And now–for an illegal activity–you’re calling police and fire resources to an incident that shouldn’t be happening and drawing us away from what we should be doing.”
Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam encouraged people to find ways to celebrate the holiday that don’t involve fire.
“I would implore all of our community members to find a safe way to celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July that would not endanger the lives, property or wildlife in our beautiful community,” Balaam said in a statement. “Our deputies will take action if they witness any illegal fireworks activity.”
According to Cochran, the RFD will be releasing additional fire safety public service announcements in the weeks to come as the region progresses further into its fire season.
“With COVID and the big season we’re expecting, it’s going to be a challenge. And one of the things we can do–I mean, we’re not going to suddenly add 100 firefighters or anything like that; nobody is–but can get prevention messages out, and, so, we’re trying to devote a lot of energy in that direction.”