Al Vildibill of El Cajon remembers shooting off firecrackers as a kid. “We would take firecrackers and put them in oranges and throw them up there and blow oranges to smithereens,” he said.
Now 81 years old, he sees things a little differently. “We were fortunate no one got hurt,” he added. He’s now the patriarch of a large family, overseeing their ninth annual Fourth of July family reunion.
He would never encourage anyone to use illegal fireworks now, but he says he knows other people do. “I live in the Granite Hills area of El Cajon. You go out there tonight and you’ll see them in the sky, people shooting them up,” he said. “You can lose an eye, hand, finger legs; there's so much that can happen.”
Vildibill’s relative Kelley Pettis lives in Santee. “We’ve seen some horrific fires. We were literally in the middle of the horseshoe in 2003, so we know what it’s like to be that scared,” she said. “Kids can get hurt, people can get hurt, we can lose our home. It’s a matter of safety and common sense,” Pettis added.
It’s been a hot dry summer with little rain, which makes illegal fireworks increasingly likely to spark a brush fire.
"It's pretty simple," Calfire Cpt. Kendal Bortisser told NBC 7. "Everything is illegal here in San Diego County, so there's no fireworks allowed whatsoever."
Personal fireworks account for two of every five reported fires in the U.S. on the Fourth, Calfire reminds.
In California, fireworks start an average of 18,000 fires, including structure and vehicle fires, and there are far more fires reported on a typical Independence Day than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Those caught using illegal fireworks can face a $1,000 to $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail – they could also be liable for the cost of the wildfire.
Simply put, Calfire says to leave the fireworks to the professionals.