CUPERTINO — Spark-spewing pyrotechnics in a drought seem as apt a fit as a hair dryer in a bathtub, but for most venues in the Bay Area the professional crowd-dazzling shows will go on come July 4.
The hottest, brownest, most sun-dried outposts are still going to blow stuff up, high in the sky. Morgan Hill residents will crane their necks for some of the biggest explosions that aren”t over water. Concord will send shells way up above the turf and dirt of Mt. Diablo High School in an event that debuted to much patriotic fanfare last year. Livermore moved its event away from the rural rodeo grounds — where putting out smoldering patches was part of the game — and now blasts mortars from the roof of a downtown garage, making for a cityscape extravaganza that has event organizers gloating.
Jeff Thomas of Pyro Spectaculars — which puts on about 400 July 4 fireworks shows nationwide, including the bulk of those in the Bay Area — said the only cancellation he knows of in Northern California is Cupertino, which bowed out when officials learned it would come with a 100,000-gallon water tab.
“We”re supportive of the show and the city, but in this instance and given the drought conditions it seemed to not be the right time to do it,” said Sue Larson, spokesperson for the school district that includes Cupertino High, the site of the show.
That”s a lot of water. It would fill three-and-a-half in-ground swimming pools, or cover a football field to a depth of three inches. It could serve the daily needs of 250 families of four, and it would take a nonstop 33-day shower to use that much agua.
Other fireworks shows don”t use anywhere near that amount of water. The most fortunate ones, such as the San Francisco”s big production or those in Berkeley, Richmond, Pittsburg or Foster City, see shells exploding harmlessly over the bay. But even when that”s not the case little water is used; just look at Cupertino”s neighbors. There”s no such wasteful prep needed before the newly restored downtown San Jose show or the always popular event in Santa Clara, and Milpitas does only a modest hosing with about 1,800 gallons of recycled water.
So what”s going on in Cupertino? It”s a combination punch of a bad location and upgraded facilities. The high school is surrounded by residential neighborhoods with potentially vulnerable roofs. Fire officials don”t like shells bursting high in the air when hot particles — Thomas said they”re along the lines of sparks you”d see by kicking a campfire log — can spread far from the launch site and land atop homes.
So the solution is to use smaller fireworks that blow up lower to the ground, but that brings another problem into play.
“They don”t have as much drift but they come down hotter,” said Erik Walukiewicz, the school district”s facilities director. “That has been causing a lot of damage to the track and field.”
That aging and divoted football field was covered with synthetic turf in 2011. The new material makes for a smooth playing ground and reduces maintenance and water use — at least at every other time of the year. But Mother Nature”s playground has the upper hand when it comes to hot ember assaults; grass burns but will grow back, while man-made synthetics melt and look horrible ever after.
“The city got a tarp to cover the field and watered it, but even then we would have fallout burning through the tarp and into the turf,” said Walukiewicz. “And it burned into our rubber track, and when you patch it up it looks ugly, like a checkerboard.”
He said they spent over $10 million on those fields — “We don”t want to see them all patched and piecework.”
Despite the vulnerability of the faux turf, nearly 70 percent of the estimated preventive water use on campus was slated for inundating the natural grass baseball and practice fields, which are also susceptible to the lower-altitude bursts. And the school is proud of its fields, Walukiewicz said.
“We do make sure they are properly irrigated, and we probably do use a little more water on them than we need to,” he said. “But everything else on the campus, and in the district, we”ll probably let it go bone dry.”
Firefighters like professional shows. They”re organized, supervised and safe — the opposite of what happens when an amateur illegally runs amok with an explosive in one hand and a lighter in the other. They”re the ones who will start a fire. They”re the ones who might blow off those hands.
“I prefer as many public displays as possible,” said Deputy Chief John Justice of the Santa Clara County Fire Department. “It”s the best way for citizens to observe tremendous fireworks shows, safely. But as the Valley built itself out, there are not as many places to do so.”
That”s what happened in Cupertino, where they used to have shows at De Anza College before an expansion switched venues to the high school a decade ago.
And city officials did not know if they”ll bring the fireworks back in the future — the school site isn”t ideal, even when there”s not a drought.
“We”ll be doing a more thorough alternatives analysis for fireworks sites,” said city spokesman Rick Kitson. “We would love to find something, but in terms of open space I don”t know where that”s available. I know people want to be creative, and if nothing else this is a very, very creative city.”
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.
Fourth of July FIREWORKS
Numerous venues will host Fourth of July fireworks throughout the Bay Area. Some highlights:
SAN JOSE: For the second year, San Jose Rotary will hold the Centennial Fireworks celebration, a free event that begins around 9:30 p.m. at Discovery Meadow, 180 Woz Way. There will also be free fireworks at Almaden Lake Park, 15652 Almaden Expressway. Tickets are available for fireworks at the S.J. Giants field at Municipal Stadium, 588 East Alma Ave. Purchase online at www.sjgiants.com, over the phone at (408) 297-1435 ext. 15.
MORGAN HILL: Fireworks after dark at the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center, part of Freedom Fest. Information at www.morganhilloutdoorsportscenter.com
SAN FRANCISCO: The city will be setting off its annual bay-based fireworks show beginning at 9:30 p.m. Viewing locations are at Pier 39, Fisherman”s Wharf and Aquatic Park.
Berkeley Marina: Fireworks 9:30 p.m. at the end of Berkeley Pier.; no cars in or out after 7 p.m. 510-548-5335, www.AnotherBullwinkelShow.com
Fireworks at 9 p.m., at Mt. Diablo High School, 2450 Grant St. Visit www.ConcordJuly4th.com for more info.
Fireworks begin at dusk at Pittsburg”s waterfront, 51 Marina Boulevard. 925-252-4860.