KERN COUNTY, Calif. (KERO) — Summer is right around the corner and some people are getting a head start for the Fourth of July by setting off fireworks. But that could be a problem as Kern County's drought conditions worsen.
According to the California Drought Monitor, right now all of Kern County is in the "extreme" drought range. There's also a significant portion of Eastern Kern County that is in the exceptional drought range.
The National Integrated Drought Information System says this was the driest year for Kern County in nearly 130 years. Bakersfield typically gets 6 inches of rain per year but to date, the city has only gotten about two inches of rain.
And this comes as a holiday known for fireworks is not too far away, which is causing local officials to warn people about fire danger.
With a combination of above-average temperatures, gusty winds, and extremely dry conditions officials believe this fire season is projecting to be worse than last year.
Last year due to the pandemic many cities had to cancel 4th of July plans across the country. But this year as the state continues to open we're already hearing some local fireworks going off well before the holiday, and with the weather, the county has been experiencing officials want to remind the community to do their part in preventing fires.
“Our fire weather season is already looking like it'll be much more active than last year," explained Kevin Durfee of the National Weather Service - Hanford. "We're already getting a head start on that.”
With most of the state experiencing extreme drought conditions, Durfee says the ongoing dry weather makes it very vulnerable for a fire to start.
Drought conditions amplify wildfire, agriculture concerns
This is why Andrew Freeborn with the Kern County Fire Department is urging the community to stay vigilant.
“It wouldn't take too much of a spark to create a situation with any wildfires,” said Freeborn. “It can be as simple as a match you use to light something. Even a common sparkler runs about the same temperature as a blow torch. We want everyone to be extra cautious because we just do not want to see a repeat of last year throughout the state especially if it comes from something avoidable. Something like fireworks.”
“If we're not prepared," continued Freeborn. "We're not using the fireworks correctly. We're really running the risk of injuring ourselves others or starting a fire.”
Tehachapi planning for July 4 celebration
This is why Key Budge with the City of Tehachapi hopes to keep the tradition alive for the annual Fourth of July firework show all while following safety protocols and having the fire department on scene.
“We also have a full water truck that's on scene during the display so if anything goes off we able to instantly able to spray water out of a huge rolling truck,” said Budge.
To put on the nearly $30,000 show Budge says this takes months of preparation before the sparks fly from the Tehachapi airport.
“Independence Day here in the United States is such an important event. We're a very patriotic community but public safety is, of course, our utmost concern.”
On top of working with the local fire department Budge says the public works department also goes out in the days leading up to the event to do a weed abatement.
“They go through and knock down any dry grass in the area and then the day of the event they saturate surrounding fields to take away the fire hazard.”
How risky are fireworks?
The latest data from the National Fire Protection Association shows fireworks started more than 19,000 fires in 2018.
The majority of those related fires - about 17,000 started outside. About 1,900 buildings caught fire because of fireworks and about 500 started in cars.
Those fires caused more than $100 million in property damage that year. On top of this, five people were killed after using fireworks incorrectly in 2018.
You can report illegal firework use through the Kern County Fire Department's Illegal Fireworks Top Form.
You Light It, We Write It" Fireworks Safety
The Kern County Fire Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Ofﬁce are teaming up once again this Fourth of July season to prevent the possession and use of illegal ﬁreworks in Kern County. Special teams will be out patrolling and taking action against those who violate the law, speciﬁcally possession and use of illegal ﬁreworks.
The possession and use of illegal ﬁreworks poses a great safety risk to those who store them, handle them and light them. The intention of our “You Light It, We Write It” campaign, is to educate the community on the dangers and ﬁnes that are associated with using illegal ﬁreworks. Illegal ﬁreworks can cause great bodily injury and death. The ﬁnes begin at $1500 for the ﬁrst violation, $2000 for the second violation and $2500 for the third.
Communities in the Wildland Urban areas within Kern County such as Lake Isabella, the Kern River Valley, Frazier Park and Tehachapi Areas, the use of “Safe and Sane” ﬁreworks are NOT permitted. The use of any ﬁrework including “Safe and Sane” ﬁreworks in these areas is prohibited as it endangers residents, homes and entire communities.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors enacted the social host liability ordinance for ﬁreworks in 2015. This ordinance states that if illegal ﬁreworks are possessed, manufactured, discharged, stored or sold on his/her private or commercial property, the owner or tenant of that property is liable and will be cited. More information on this ordinance can be found on the Kern County Fire Department’s www.YouLightItWeWriteIt.com website.
The Kern County Fire Department encourages residents to use “Safe and Sane” legal ﬁreworks within the approved time lines. The use of “Safe and Sane” ﬁreworks, reduces the threat of injury or threat of ﬁre when used properly. Taking safety precautions such as having a hose or bucket of water for expired ﬁreworks, lighting “Safe and Sane " ﬁreworks in areas clear of dry grass, bushes fences and buildings, and keeping children clear of the lighting area. The use of “Safe and Sane” ﬁreworks are permitted on private property only. Details of ﬁnes and penalties, ordinances and time frames for the use of “Safe and Sane” ﬁreworks can be found at www.YouLightItWeWriteIt.com.
Taking precautions for the safety of your animals during the Fourth of July holiday is vital. Kern County Animal Services Director Nick Cullen ”Animal Services encourages animal owners to take the appropriate measures to ensure your family pets are safe and sound during the July 4th holiday. An unfortunate result of ﬁrework activity every year is an increase in the number of calls received for injured, loose, and lost animals.”