ANTIOCH -- The concern that Contra Costa Fire Protection District officials have about illegal fireworks setting off fires in hot, dry weather appears to have come to fruition even before the official holiday.
Fireworks were most likely the cause of a small brush fire on the campus of Park Middle School on Wednesday night, Fire Capt. Kent Kirby said. The one-alarm blaze started around 7:15 p.m. in a field outside the school building on Spartan Way.
"People in the area heard the sound of them and called right away," Kirby said. "And there was debris left over in the area."
None of the buildings was damaged and nobody was injured, Kirby said.
The incident put into focus the difficulties fire officials said come with mixing illegal fireworks with the hot weather and dry conditions caused by the state's severe water drought. The issue has been especially prevalent in East Contra Costa County.
"A year ago, we had fire calls pending in that part of the county," said Fire Investigator Vic Massenkoff. "We just didn't and don't have the manpower to chase everyone of them as they happened. So we're really making a call to people not to use illegal fireworks."
The fire Wednesday came less than a week after authorities arrested three men in an East County sting that netted around 2,500 pounds of illegal fireworks. One of the suspects in that case was from Indiana and Massenkoff said authorities are now investigating shipping agencies that transported the fireworks.
The three were arrested after police and fire investigators answered a Craigslist ad selling fireworks.
"It'll make a dent, a very small dent," Massenkoff said. "But illegal fireworks are out there and what this case shows is how easy it is for people to get their hands on them. People need to realize that it's illegal in all of Contra Costa County to have them and that it can be a felony to transport them into the state. You're driving, say in Idaho, and buy some legal fireworks and you drive them into California. That's a felony and most people I don't think even realize that."
Gilroy, Dublin, Newark and Union City are the only cities in Alameda or Santa Clara counties where "safe and sane" fireworks are legal.
"It used to be that we had to worry about cherry bombs and M-80s," Massenkoff said.
"Now, you have full-scale pyrotechnics that are designed only to be used by professionals who are trained to use them in the hands of Joe Public. You can kill yourself with these. People need to use caution and, you hope, obey the law."
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789. Follow him at Twitter.com/3rderh.