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Illegal fireworks are traumatizing SF’s children, pets and autistic residents: report

People light illegal fireworks at nighttime in a city street.
Golden State Warriors fans light fireworks along 24th Street to celebrate an NBA championship victory over the Boston Celtics in June 2022. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

An “out-of-control” illegal fireworks problem is traumatizing San Francisco’s children, pets, autistic residents, and those suffering from dementia or PTSD, the city’s latest civil grand jury report says.

The jury, a civilian oversight body of 19 San Francisco residents, says the issue is due to a lack of coordination among city departments, limited tracking, inadequate public education, and inconsistent messaging on how to report activity.

“All private fireworks are illegal in San Francisco, yet they continue to be a constant problem throughout the year, especially on July 4,” Bart Fisher, the grand jury committee chairperson, said in a Tuesday press release. “It’s important to get city departments working together towards solutions.”

Fireworks pose serious safety risks, causing injuries like burns, lost limbs, hearing and vision damage, and even death, the jury found—including a New Year’s Day incident on Treasure Island where a man died.

The report estimates that around 100,000 San Francisco households have pets frightened by fireworks. It adds that over 3,500 young children, 10,000 autistic residents, 12,500 dementia patients, and 40,200 veterans and adults with PTSD may be affected.  

Although the report says fireworks are a year-round problem, the report found that June and July saw the largest number of reported incidents by far.

Flames engulf a Waymo.
A crowd in Chinatown surrounded a Waymo robotaxi on Feb. 10, where some in the group broke windows and threw fireworks inside, setting the autonomous vehicle ablaze. | Source: Courtesy Alex Cisneros

In interviews, the jury heard about fireworks used against police during last July’s Dolores Hill bomb gathering and police identification of a 14-year-old as a suspect in the torching of a Waymo robotaxi in the city’s Chinatown in February.

All neighborhoods across the city experience illegal fireworks, the report found. However, from 2018 to 2023, the Mission area had over double the number of fireworks-related police incidents compared to other neighborhoods.

Bayview-Hunters Point received the most 911 calls from 2018-2023, with the Mission coming in second. The Tenderloin, Sunset, and Western Addition neighborhoods also received a high number of 911 calls reporting illegal fireworks.

The report recommends that the city create a working group led by the Mayor’s Office in partnership with the emergency department, fire officials, 311, and the police to help address necessary responses. The Mayor’s Office is expected to release a joint statement in response to the report on Wednesday.

Last year’s jury report focused on homeless nonprofits, but this year’s foreperson, Michael Carboy, declined to explain why illegal fireworks were chosen as a subject.

“The grand jury does not enter into matters of policy. We focus strictly on procedure and process within the city government,” Carboy told The Standard. “We are explicitly prohibited from getting into policy issues.”