Santa Cruz County

Illegal fireworks suspected in causing neighborhood fire in Santa Cruz

Illegal fireworks burn cars in Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Ash and rubble was all that was left after illegal fireworks sparked a fire that evacuated an entire city block in Santa Cruz.  It happened during Friday's 4th of July festivities in the Seabright neighborhood just before 10 p.m.

Police officers and fire crews were also put in harm's way during a chaotic response to control a large crowd.

Santa Cruz Fire said it was prepared to tackle illegal fireworks.

"Each year there are more and more that are coming in, all over the city, all over our county.  And those are the ones that go up in the air, catch trees on fire, brush," said Battalion Chief Mike Venezio.

An airburst-style firework thrown on First Avenue ignited a tree, threatening a power pole that was next to the tree. Several power and phone lines were immediately compromised by the fire and fell onto the roadway. While fire crews were waiting for PG&E to arrive to shut off power flow to the lines, the fire spread to a nearby parked car.

"Caught the tree on fire and then dropped down in what appears to be a convertible, caught that vehicle on fire and two others along with it," Venezio said.

Power and phone lines were burned and fell onto the street-a major threat to the neighborhood.  Residents of First Avenue and parts of Second Avenue were temporarily evacuated as precaution.

While firefighters and police were responding to the fire, a large crowd gathered. At one point, an airburst-style firework was thrown at the feet of officers in the area. No one was hurt, but police arrested the person they believe threw the firework -- 20-year-old Nathan Hansel of Ben Lomond. He's facing charges of felony assault on a peace officer.   

"I think it definitely does show that in the wrong hands, it can definitely be extremely dangerous," said resident Tyler Cirac of the fireworks in the area.

Crews were able to limit the fire to the trees and three cars, without it spreading to any nearby homes.  Still, the charred pieces left behind are a reminder of just how dangerous illegal fireworks can be.

"The city police and fire are very overwhelmed with the amount of fireworks that are going off.  They try to keep them away from the beaches however it's even unmanageable on our beaches," Venezio said. 

Crews said it can be hard to control illegal fireworks because it's difficult to tell who let them off.  However they were able to confiscate about 75 pounds of fireworks.

As a reminder, all fireworks are illegal in Santa Cruz, including the "safe and sane" variety. This year, the city tripled fines - meaning offenders could pay up to $700.

Previous story:

Illegal fireworks are suspected in causing a large tree to catch fire in Santa Cruz Friday night, threatening several nearby homes according to Santa Cruz fire.

Crews say they responded to the flames around 9:46 p.m. on First Ave. and Marine Parade.

When they arrived, a tree and multiple cars had already caught fire. Crews say there were also energized power lines that had burnt through and were lying on the ground, causing a threat to the public and firefighters.

PG&E were eventually able to de-energize the power lines before they caused anymore damage.

Crews were able to extinguish the cars along with the trees that had caught fire.

The fire was determined to be caused by illegal fireworks being set off in the area.

Firefighters say the blaze caused $120,000 worth of damage to the neighborhood.

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