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Holiday revelers spark two fires

Blazes ignited by fireworks were in Calaveras


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

At least two fires were sparked by fireworks in the Mother Lode over the three-day Fourth of July weekend, and three adults were cited for launching illegal fireworks into the air in a third incident.

Both blazes determined to be caused by fireworks were ignited in Calaveras County, where less than a year ago the Butte Fire killed two residents, destroyed more than 500 homes and torched 110 square miles of watersheds. The Butte Fire was caused by a tree that came into contact with a Pacific Gas & Electric power line, according to Cal Fire.

Most fireworks are illegal in Calaveras County and in Tuolumne County. That did not stop some people from lighting them off.

One fireworks blaze was reported just after 10 p.m. Monday in the Rancho Calaveras area, where about one acre of vegetation burned. Investigators were looking for whoever lit the fireworks that sparked the blaze, said Matthew Gilbert, battalion chief for fire prevention and law enforcement with Cal Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit.

The other fire sparked by fireworks was reported at 9:47 p.m. Saturday in the 4600 Block of King Lane in Copperopolis, where someone was using “safe and sane” fireworks ignited a 20-by-20-foot spot fire, Gilbert said. Cal Fire and Copperopolis Fire personnel responded and confirmed locals contained the fire.

“The cause of this fire was determined to be the result of Safe and Sane fireworks use,” Gilbert said.

A man was cited for negligently causing the fire. His name was not released.

‘Selling illegal fireworks’

Also Saturday night, someone called Sonora police at 10:57 p.m. and reported a store on Mono Way was selling illegal fireworks. A police officer responded and determined the fireworks were illegal.

“Management advised to remove from sales floor,” a Sonora police media bulletin states. “Copy to day shift for follow up.”

Asked for more details about the incident on Tuesday, Sonora police did not respond.

Gilbert said no businesses were cited by Cal Fire in Calaveras or Tuolumne counties for selling illegal fireworks. That does not mean other law enforcement agencies did not cite any businesses.

California Highway Patrol personnel based in San Andreas issued one fireworks citation in Valley Springs on Sunday, CHP Officer Toby Butzler said.

About 9:20 p.m. Sunday in the 2900 block of Butler Lane in Valley Springs, a CHP officer saw aerial fireworks and heard explosions, Butzler said. The officer identified the backyard, made contact with three people, and cited all three for launching illegal fireworks into the air.

No fireworks citations were issued in Tuolumne County by Cal Fire, Gilbert said. Less than three years ago, the Rim Fire destroyed 400 square miles of mountain forest watersheds, mainly in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

Stanislaus National Forest

In the Stanislaus National Forest, where fireworks are prohibited year-round, visitors made three separate reports of fireworks use at local reservoirs over the holiday weekend.

Two reports of fireworks use were made at Pinecrest and one report was made at Beardsley Reservoir, said Forest Service spokeswoman Rebecca Garcia. No citations were given.

“Members of the public called in a complaint for each incident,” Garcia said.

Also in Calaveras County, sheriff’s dispatchers received eight calls about fireworks use on Saturday evening and 17 on Sunday.

On Saturday, fireworks calls were from different locations in Arnold, Copperopolis, Tamarack and Valley Springs.

Early Sunday, four calls came in from the Cheyenne Road area in Copperopolis.

Sunday evening, there were six calls from multiple locations in Copperopolis and three calls from Butler Lane in Valley Springs.

For Saturday and Sunday, four calls came from the Skyline Drive area in Tamarack.

In addition on Sunday evening, one call came from Camp Connell, one came from Gold Creek Drive in Valley Springs and one incident was in San Andreas.

Gilbert reminded people Tuesday that anyone using “dangerous” fireworks and “safe and sane” fireworks can be cited and have their fireworks confiscated. In addition, if fireworks use results in a fire, the user is subject to additional violations, the possibility of arrest and potentially civil liability for damages caused by a fire ignited by fireworks.

Anyone possessing fireworks can surrender them without penalty at any fire station, Gilbert said. For more information, go online to http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/strucfireengineer/strucfireengineer_fireworks.