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Authorities urge caution this Fourth of July weekend

Man accused of sparking Tulloch blaze with fireworks


File photo / Union Democrat A lighted billboard over Highway 108 near Soulsbyville warns about illegal fireworks in Tuolumne County in 2014.

Days before this Fourth of July weekend, Cal Fire said a Stanislaus County man is suspected of sparking the May 30 Tulloch Fire with a firework thrown or launched from the back of a boat just upstream from the O’Byrnes Ferry Road bridge.

“That’s my investigation,” Battalion Chief Matt Gilbert, of Cal Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit law enforcement and fire prevention, said Thursday. “I will be submitting my investigation report to the Tuolumne County D.A. for prosecution, hopefully by mid-July. Violations we’re submitting are misdemeanor possession of fireworks, misdemeanor burning lands of another, and perhaps recklessly causing a fire, which the D.A. can file as a misdemeanor or a felony.”

The man’s name, age and hometown have not been released. A misdemeanor conviction can mean a fine up to $1,000 and a year in county jail. Cal Fire law enforcement officers will be patrolling Calaveras and Tuolumne counties this weekend to enforce laws and codes that prohibit sales, possession, use and discharge of fireworks.

Gilbert estimates Cal Fire issues a half-dozen misdemeanor possession of fireworks citations a year in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Permitted fireworks events

Due to tinder-dry conditions in mountain forests and the rest of the Mother Lode, most fireworks are illegal.

There are at least three fireworks displays planned this weekend in Tuolumne, Calaveras and Mariposa counties. July 4 is Monday.

A public event is planned at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys. The other two are at reservoirs, a private event at Pine Mountain Lake and a public event at Lake McClure.

The Ironstone Vineyards Fourth of July Celebration is slated to begin 2 p.m. Saturday at 1894 Six Mile Road in Murphys. The event has been staged for at least the past 15 years, said Carolyn McVarish, executive assistant to the Ironstone president.

Entrance fees are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Kids 5 and under get in free. Ironstone has parking room for more than 3,000 vehicles and the event typically sells out each year with attendance estimates of about 5,000 people, McVarish said.

There are three bands scheduled to perform at Ironstone. Fireworks are expected to begin at dark and the display is for about 30 minutes.

Ironstone staff work with Murphys Fire, Cal Fire and other local agencies to ensure the fireworks event is safe, McVarish said.

Bruce Rohrer, general manager for Ironstone Vineyards, said fire inspections are conducted each year before the fireworks.

“We clear the field, cut it, disc it, plow it,” Rohrer said. “We have people up in canyons with water packs. We comply with everything they ask. Sometimes we move the display to adjust to the weather. We have hayfields around us and we get all the hay off the fields.”

Private only

The event at Pine Mountain Lake is also scheduled Saturday. It is for residents of the private, gated community and other people who own property at the manmade lake, staff at the Pine Mountain Lake Association said. The event is not open to the public.

Fireworks are scheduled to begin at dusk at the marina.

“As we near the Independence Day weekend we would like to remind everyone that fireworks are illegal in Tuolumne County and, with the extremely hot and dry conditions, exceptionally dangerous,” Pine Mountain Lake staff posted on Facebook this week.

They asked residents to report illegal fireworks activity by calling 911.

McClure event

The fireworks event at Lake McClure, the reservoir impounding waters of the Merced River between La Grange and Coulterville, is also set for Saturday. Entrance to Lake McClure will be $20 per vehicle through the kiosk at 9090 Lake McClure Road, Snelling.

Visitors are invited to arrive early and spend the day at McClure and McSwain reservoirs. Fireworks viewing areas at McClure Point will open to the public at 5 p.m. The “Lights on the Lake” display will begin at dusk or about 9 p.m.

Merced Irrigation District parks and recreation staff say visitors can watch the show from designated areas on shore and from their boats. All nighttime navigation laws apply and will be enforced.

“We have had several challenging years with the drought,” said Bret Theodozio, MID parks director. “The return of the fireworks show this year is great news to everyone and we are looking forward to making this a fantastic event.”

Drought conditions and low reservoir levels prevented MID from staging fireworks events at McClure the past two years, said Mike Jensen, spokesman for Merced Irrigation District.

District staff said the use of personal fireworks is strictly prohibited in Mariposa County.

In Yosemite National Park, evening “firefalls” were staged for nearly a century, with live bonfires shoved off Glacier Point until the tradition was ended in 1968.

Today, fireworks are strictly prohibited in Yosemite. In addition, with the ongoing drought, conditions are extremely dry and rangers are advising visitors this weekend to do without campfires unless absolutely necessary.

Fireworks are not allowed in the Stanislaus National Forest at any time.

Other events

Columbia is hosting a fireworks-free “Glorious 4th of July Celebration” scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Monday with a flag-raising and a black powder musket salute.

Then there’s a free concert from the Great Mother Lode Brass and Reed Band, traditional games and the annual Independence Day parade.

Up the hill at Twain Harte, the Fourth of July Parade and Family Fun Day is downtown and it is also fireworks-free. Organizers are inviting people to be in the parade. Registration begins at 10 a.m. Monday, followed by a sing-along at El Jardin Restaurant.

“Have you ever been in a parade?” Twain Harte Chamber of Commerce staff asked in a recent announcement. “Would you like to be in a parade? Do you have a bicycle you can ride with some playing cards and clothes pins attached to the bike so that it makes noise as the wheels turn?”

The parade is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with activities following that include “family fun things to do” on Cedar Street. The parade is a free event.

“We’ll accept parade entries up until the day of the event,” said Sandy Asquith, the Chamber of Commerce office manager. “Come to the registration desk by Cal Fire and we’ll be glad to put you in the parade.”

Asked about fireworks, Asquith said, “There are no fireworks displays planned in Twain Harte. Fireworks are illegal in Tuolumne County. That’s a statement.”

Over in Mokelumne Hill, there’s another fireworks-free day of activities planned, said Krissy Haderer, office manager at Hotel Leger.

The old-time parade is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Monday. Main Street will be closed to traffic.

“It’s an all-day, whole town event,” Haderer said. “We’ll have kids’ games in the park after the parade, barbecue in the backyard pool area at the hotel, and Jeramy Norris and the Dangerous Mood will be playing.”

Renegade Winery will offer Independence Day lunch with barbecue chicken, ranch bean and corn on the cob. All businesses in town will be open. Acme Art will have a project so people of all ages can make patriotic pinwheels, Haderer said.