Fourth weekend: fun, fireworks and tragedy

Danielle and Cheyanne Hernstedt look at ‘Snow’ the goat downtown

GILROY
– Fireworks bursts in Gilroy gave way to fire engine sirens
Friday after two residences burned on a Fourth of July holiday fire
department officials called

busier than normal.

GILROY – Fireworks bursts in Gilroy gave way to fire engine sirens Friday after two residences burned on a Fourth of July holiday fire department officials called “busier than normal.”

The Gilroy Fire Department responded to at least six small vegetation blazes, an apartment fire that destroyed part of a roof and a house fire that took 3,300 gallons to extinguish.

No injuries due to the fires were reported.

“We would put a fire out and move on to the next one,” Gilroy Fire Capt. Colin Martin said. “We were so busy I came back in after going off duty.”

Block parties, barbecues and the annual fireworks show at Gilroy High School provided Garlic Town with a healthy counterbalance to the emergencies.

During the course of the 20-minute show, more than 500 rockets’ red glare flew throughout the sky, and more than 148 were part of the grand finale show. The costs of the show was $6,200, which included both the fireworks and the pyrotechnicians needed to put it on. The Gilroy Rotary Club gave a donation to the city to help with the costs.

Ashley Nunes, 21, of Gilroy, has been going to the fireworks since she was a little girl, and said there is something about the event that makes the Fourth of July feel complete.

“A Fourth of July without fireworks would be like Christmas without a tree,” Nunes said. “Watching them is like the grand finale of a day of celebrating summer, our country, friends and family.”

Even though streets surrounding the school were filled with cars and people hanging out waiting for the festivities to begin, Lisa Baty, 21, said she had no trouble getting a great spot to watch.

“We got there literally five minutes before it began, and we got one of the best seats in the house,” Baty said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and this was definitely one of the best fireworks shows I have seen yet.”

Morgan Hill was no stranger to Fourth of July ceremony either. The annual downtown parade featured 200 entries and 19 floats. This year’s grand marshals were made up of soldiers, both past and present, including 104-year-old Morgan Hill resident Gerald Lewis who served in both world wars. The others were active service men and women who fought in Iraq.

Morgan Hill police reported no major problems during the parade.

“There were traffic issues and only one arrest,” said Police Chief Gerry Galvin. “It was a good crowd.”

The sole arrest was an unlicensed vender who became difficult when asked to leave.

Although investigations are not complete, fireworks are the expected cause of the series of blazes in Gilroy, fire officials said. The vegetation fires occurred over a six-hour time span Friday, from 4 to 10 p.m. The structure fires happened at roughly 9:45 and 11:05 at night, prime time for shooting fireworks.

At one point Friday, Gilroy fire crews called for assistance from out of town, Martin said. The non-stop action created a Catch-22 for Gilroy firefighters. Because crews were busy putting out fires, resources were unable to confiscate as many illegal fireworks as usual.

“We were busier than normal (responding to calls), but we confiscated less fireworks than normal this year,” Capt. Ed Bozzo said.

As for the structure fires, details on the house blaze at 331 El Toro Way are sketchy since firefighters who responded Friday were not available for comment before deadline. Fire Capt. Art Amaro said the damage was significant and fireworks are a possible cause in part because the blaze occurred at nearly 10 p.m.

The apartment fire at 8275 Westwood Drive – which destroyed an attic – also appears to be the work of errant fireworks. The blaze, Capt. Martin said, started outside and worked its way in, but evidence of fireworks probably burned.

“The junipers out front were burning pretty heavy, so I don’t know if we’re going to have any evidence available,” Capt. Martin said.

Fire department and paramedic crews were not the only ones overworked this weekend. Fatal crashes and drunken driving arrests were higher this Fourth of July weekend compared to last year, the California Highway Patrol said Sunday.

Emergency personnel responded to at least three fatal accidents that happened over the weekend in Hollister and Gilroy, as California Highway Patrol officers arrested 13 people for driving under the influence of alcohol at a Highway 25 sobriety checkpoint.

Staff writers Christine Tognetti and Cheeto Barrera contributed to this report.

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