Johanna Miller: Fireworks irresponsible in summer heat


Last week, Watsonville experienced one of its hottest weekends on record. Temperatures reached 110 degrees at one point — practically unheard of for our region’s normally mild summer days. When things began to cool down slightly on Sunday, it seemed like most of us were breathing a collective sigh of relief.

And then, on Sunday evening as I was getting ready for bed, I heard it: fireworks. In the middle of the city. One after another, the definitely-not-legal kind that shoot into the air and come down wherever the wind takes them.

“Seriously?” I yelled out my window. “You couldn’t wait till it got below 80 degrees?”

Honestly, hearing fireworks in Watsonville is pretty standard. Our town is famous for the barrage of explosives that light up the sky on the Fourth of July, New Year’s, Cinco de Mayo and basically any other day of celebration.

And I get it; fireworks are fun. They are beautiful and exciting. They can also hold special cultural and religious significance for different people across the globe. One of my favorite artists is Cai Guo-qiang from China, who has created a number of the most beautiful firework displays ever (just look up the documentary “Sky Ladder” and tell me that isn’t spectacular).

But even the best things in life can be ruined by a few irresponsible people.

The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is currently experiencing one of its worst wildfires in history. Much beloved hiking trails as well as the famous Multnomah Falls have been threatened. The highway nearby was shut down. Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes. According to my friend who lives in eastern Portland, people were wearing masks because the ash was falling like snow.

And it all began with a few kids throwing fireworks off a bridge.

I lived in Oregon for a few years, attending a university just west of Portland. The Columbia River Gorge is my all-time favorite place to visit. Many of my friends who were locals agreed, citing it as a place beloved by pretty much everyone.

Seeing it burn up because of a couple of ignorant individuals is devastating, and it makes me think about our situation here in the Pajaro Valley.

In California, forest fires are a part of life. They happen often. We’ve experienced them just recently. Many of them happen naturally, or at least are not started directly by humans. And they’re not always bad — in some cases, naturally occurring wildfires can help revitalize certain environments.

But when human lives and developments, as well as certain irreplaceable habitats (I’m thinking of Yosemite’s grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoias that were engulfed recently) are threatened, it’s different. Especially when they could have been prevented.

We don’t want to see Mt. Madonna State Park burn up, or the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. We don’t want to see a beloved building downtown engulfed in flames. We want our valley — both urban and rural — to survive for a long time.

Not shooting off illegal fireworks in uncontrolled areas, especially in the hot summer months, is one way to prevent any of this from happening. On the Fourth of July, go buy a bag of safe fireworks from one of the many booths that support Watsonville nonprofits. Remember that a few moments of celebration isn’t worth the risk of putting others in danger.


Johanna Miller can be reached at 761-7303 or [email protected]

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