Fire depts battle hundreds of blazes over holiday weekend

Fire crews from Fresno and Tulare counties had their hands full responding to hundreds of calls during the holiday and weekend

Over the course of a 24-period covering July 4, the Visalia Fire Department responded to 65 calls. Photo courtesy of the Visalia Stringer.
Darren Fraser
Published July 9, 2024  • 
10:00 am

FRESNO & TULARE COUNTIES – Fire crews in Fresno and Tulare counties were kept busy over the long, scorching July 4th weekend as they responded to hundreds of service calls, many of which were the direct result of residents setting off illegal fireworks.

The majority of fires involved vegetation and debris, though there were nine fires involving structures. No fatalities were reported.

In terms of the sheer volume of calls received, the City of Fresno Fire Department (FFD) far outpaced neighboring fire agencies. Josh Sellers, FFD public information officer, said between 8 a.m. July 4 and 8 a.m. July 5, FFD received 286 emergency incident calls. Of these, 139 involved fires. Most of these were vegetation fires but four did include structures and two were car fires. Sellers said the 139 calls made it impossible for investigators to determine how many were caused by illegal fireworks, although they hope to make inroads as investigations progress.

Sellers said he estimates that there was roughly a 14% increase over the total of calls received last July 4.

“We had nonstop responses (this year),” he said. “There was a three-hour period, between 9 p.m. and midnight, when our resources were stretched so thin, we had to stop taking medical calls.”

The Visalia Fire Department (VFD) was also extremely busy over the holiday weekend. According to a July 5 news release, over a 24-period covering the Fourth, VFD responded to 65 calls. Eight fire units were dispatched to a one-acre grass fire that threatened nearby homes and businesses. The fire was started by illegal fireworks.

Fire crews were kept busy over the weekend of July 4 in Tulare and Fresno County as they responded to hundreds of service calls, with the majority of them being directly related to the use of illegal fireworks. Photo courtesy of the Visalia Stringer.

According to the news release, starting just before 11:45 p.m. on the fourth, VFD had to deal with three structure fires, two of which were caused by legal fireworks that had been improperly disposed of in trash cans.

Shannan Harris, Fresno County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief, said his agency responded to 32 fires caused by illegal fireworks over the period of July 3 through July 5. Harris said damages were in excess of $32,000, including a barn and fences. The District encompasses approximately 2,655 square miles and serves a population of more than 220,000 people.

Compared to its larger neighbor, the county’s second largest city fared better. Chad Fitzgerald, public information for the Clovis Fire Department, said the department responded to 13 fires over the holiday. Eight of those were in Clovis city limits; two were vegetation fires.

Considering that temperatures averaged in triple digits in the Valley over the weekend – Fresno reached 110 on the fourth – the number of fires, particularly in rural communities, could have been significantly higher.

Cal Fire Station #71, Fresno County Fire Protection District, covers Parlier and parts of Reedley. The station responded to eight fires over the holiday.

Orange Cove Fire District Battalion Chief Edward Hernandez said his department responded to 10 fires, all but one were vegetation fires.

“A power pole caught fire,” he said.

Kingsburg Fire Department reported no fires in the city; Selma reported 12 fires, all involving vegetation and debris.

The Tulare County Fire Department stayed busy the entire holiday weekend. According to Battalion Chief Brian Duffy, for the 24-hour period covering the fourth, the department responded to 107 calls. Duffy said 62 were for fires.

“We were insanely busy,” he said. Crews battled grass fires nonstop. Duffy said there were two structure fires, one of which was started by illegal fireworks. He added that from July 3 through July 8, the department responded to 98 fires.

Dinuba Fire Department Battalion Chief Joanne Bear said her department responded to 180 calls for service over the period of July 3 through July 6. Over that period, Dinuba Fire responded to nine fires. Bear said six fires – vegetation and debris – were caused by illegal fireworks. Dinuba Fire confiscated 85 pounds of illegal pyrotechnics and issued 26 citations. 

Darren Fraser