Editorial: Super-dry L.A. needs to chill on the pyrotechnics — for good

Fireworks over North Hollywood, as seen from Burbank on July 4, 2020.
Fireworks over North Hollywood, as seen from Burbank on July 4, 2020.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles loves its fireworks, both the sanctioned displays at places such as the Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium and the DIY light shows that pop up year round to celebrate holidays and major wins by local sports teams.

But it is the days just before and after the Fourth of July when this tradition reaches a fevered crescendo and the ear-splitting booms, colorful blooms of lights and a haze that smells like gunpowder spread across the city. It’s an unhealthy tradition, and illegal to boot, and it needs to be extinguished for good.

Why? It’s not just because amateur pyrotechnics are dangerous, killing and maiming thousands of people every year in the U.S., often in gruesome ways: fingers and limbs blown off, blast wounds to the head and chest, and deep thermal burns, just to name a few of them.

And not just because they cause unhealthy levels of air pollution. Environmental health scientists at UC Irvine have documented extremely high amounts of hazardous particulates in the air of Southern California during late June and early July in 2019 and 2020, with concentrations in places where illegal fireworks use is highest.

And not just because the endless and inescapable booms are uniquely cruel to military veterans with PTSD, people with special needs and pets who don’t understand that this is a celebration, not a calamity.


And not just because they are the occasional source of neighborhood-disrupting blowouts. That was underscored Wednesday night in South Los Angeles when an armored truck exploded, injuring 17 people, while police were trying to safely detonate some of the 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks seized from a residence. In an even more dramatic explosion in March, a large cache of commercial-grade fireworks stored in an Ontario house ignited, destroying the house and raining debris down on surrounding homes. Two people died and dozens of homes were damaged.

The final straw for our love affair with pyrotechnics is that California — and the entire U.S. West, actually — is like a gigantic tinderbox just waiting for a spark.

While illegal fireworks aren’t the biggest source of wildfires, they are still a regular culprit — especially on the Fourth of July. In just one example, a wildfire near Fresno last month is believed to have been caused by people setting off illegal fireworks. It’s telling that wildfires in the U.S. spike on Independence Day, totaling about 7,000 from 1992 to 2015.

Stopping this Fourth of July custom in the Los Angeles region would be difficult, especially because some Southern California cities still allow the sale of fireworks that are illegal in L.A. and other jurisdictions. But local officials are trying to tamp it down, sometimes in novel ways.

L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer, who has focused on going after suppliers, persuaded four online sellers to pull ads for illegal fireworks. L.A. City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, whose district in the northeast San Fernando Valley is particularly fire-prone, collected more than a quarter ton of illegal fireworks Wednesday in a pilot buy-back program. And San Bernardino County, which is prone to wildfires, is trying out a smartphone app to collect citizen reports and photos that authorities can use to identify and ticket residences where illegal fireworks are set off.

It’s good to see authorities taking the proliferation of illegal pyrotechnics seriously. Unfortunately, there’s only so much they can do until citizens recognize the cost and danger involved in homegrown fireworks displays and opt to enjoy one of the many professional — and legal — shows around the region instead.