Fourth of July celebrations, like those that will take place across the Valley and the nation this weekend, typically depend on extravagant fireworks displays to draw and wow the public.
The City of San Fernando is taking a different approach this year.
On Saturday, July 2, the city will host an early evening street festival in the downtown San Fernando Mall that will culminate with a laser-light show rather than exploding rockets, roman candles, spidery brocades or sparklers.
“It’s been 10 years since we’ve had fireworks in the City of San Fernando,” said Marisol Diaz, a program coordinator with the City Department of Recreation and Community Services. “So we thought it would be something different to put this together so that the community can come out and celebrate.”
Laser light shows, which have been around for decades, are often set to music and employ mirrors, gas or crystals and agitated atoms to project and create their effects rather than using gunpowder or other types of explosives. They do not add toxins and pollutants into the atmosphere, water or land, or create loud noises that can frighten pets, birds and wildlife.
“This is the first time the City of San Fernando has had a laser show. It’s basically lights that will be projected onto a screen and into the sky, and it’s going to be (approximately) a 20-minute light show,” Diaz said.
“It’s different because it’s more eco-friendly. You’re not going to have fireworks with a lot of smoke in the air.”
Most laser lights are now considered no more dangerous than fluorescent lights. Outdoor shows are considered safe as long as the lasers do not come into direct contact with the audience viewing the show. Some lasers, depending on the intensity of the beam and how they are being projected, can cause eye injuries.
“Our laser show is controlled, with the lights projecting on structures next to the stage,” Diaz said. “It won’t be a hazard to the eyes, and it is safer than fireworks because there are no explosions.”
Another, newer type of event is a light show using drones. Their LED lights can create billions of different light combinations and with a greater range than traditional fireworks.
A drone light show will take place at Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace on Monday, July 4. Other Monday shows in the Valley using regular fireworks are scheduled in Porter Ranch and Woodland Hills (see sidebar).
The Dark Side of Traditional Fireworks
Fireworks will still be the dominant choice of entertainment for July 4 celebrants. But one of the biggest issues, especially for law enforcement and fire departments, is the purchasing and setting off of illegal and more powerful fireworks instead of the “safe” and “sane” models sold between June 28 and July 6.
And during July 4 or longer, the more dangerous fireworks are constantly exploded at night in densely populated neighborhoods, frightening pets, disturbing residents and can cause damage to cars, structures or worse.
Captain Erik Scott, public information officer with the Los Angeles City Fire Department, said every year police and first responders witness too many tragic examples of persons severely injured by fireworks they are not trained to handle or fully understand how destructive they can be.
Scott, who’s also a veteran paramedic, knows too well how devastating those injuries are — and to whom.
“Forty percent of the injuries we see happen to children, which is very tragic and preventable,” the captain said.
“A good number of those are individuals who feel a sparkler is a benign, minimal risk, almost toy-like item to hand to children. Those sparklers burn at 1,200 degrees. To put that in perspective, water boils at 212 degrees. You bake a cake at 350 degrees. You would put wood in a fireplace that burns at 575 degrees. Glass melts at around 900 degrees.”
“And then you think a sparkler burning at 1,200 degrees can be handed to a child?”
He said the “majority of injuries” responders see most often are to fingers and hands. “People have had to have their hands amputated from fireworks injuries,” Scott said. “Additional injuries would be to the eyes and hearing.”
According to the LAFD website, 9,100 firework injuries on average send people to area hospitals. Although fatalities are not as common, fireworks do kill an average of five people a year — often children.
And there is additional pressure being felt by firefighters and first responders this year due to the historic drought that is leaving forests, grasslands and hillsides extremely vulnerable to fire.
“(The LA Fire Department) had a meeting this week on the topic, with an anticipated likelihood of a deployment of a specialized team who is at the ready in the event there is a large-scale wildfire. We certainly have seen increased temperatures and reduced relative humidity, plus the drought has made our fine flashy fuel very susceptible to a spark,” Scott said.
“Our concern is individuals utilizing their own fireworks, particularly near brushy areas, can ignite hillsides as we have seen in the past.”
Buyback Programs and Increased Police Presence
For those who don’t know, while the state law allows for the sale and purchase of “safe” and “sane” fireworks (those not defined as “dangerous fireworks” by state law and carrying the seal of the state Fire Marshal), they can still be illegal to possess or ignited depending on an individual city’s and county’s ordinance. For example, all fireworks in the city of Los Angeles are illegal.
There are “buyback” programs for illegal fireworks like the one being sponsored by LA City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez on July 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the Brand Park parking lot located in Mission Hills.
It is the second year of the program; it is anonymous, meaning no questions asked to those who bring them to the park, and the returnees will receive a free value gift card (while supplies last). Those returning fireworks must transport them in the trunk of their vehicle. Last year’s program recovered nearly a quarter-ton of illicit fireworks.
But despite the promotion of the program, authorities cannot predict the turnout. Which is why LA City Attorney Mike Feuer has been repeatedly reminding the public this week that anyone found guilty of selling, possessing, using or discharging illegal fireworks in the city of Los Angeles can be fined up to $1,000 and/or face up to a year in jail. The LA City Council has also provided funding for the LAPD to increase the number of working officers on foot and vehicular patrols to find and confiscate illegal fireworks.
All the more reason, Scott said, to go see a public celebration, whether it’s traditional fireworks, laser lights, drones or what have you.
“We understand people want to celebrate and have fun. We just want them to do so safely,” he said. “We [don’t want the public to see] what we see as first responders — the tragic, long-lasting permanent injuries that are preventable.”
“Think about [how illegal fireworks can disturb] your neighbors. Think about the kids that statistically have a higher chance of being injured. Think about the pets that are scared and run away; our shelters are full this time of year. Think about the combat veterans who feel like they’re back in a war zone after hearing the concussions going off. Or those who are autistic with more sensitive hearing.”
In other words, think “safe” and “sane.”