Firefighters on road with smoke in the background
Crews on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley fight a fire in August 2017. Credit: Frances Dinkelspiel

Amid a severe drought and a dangerous wildfire season, city officials are urging Berkeley residents to skip the fireworks, which are illegal in the city and most of the county, this Fourth of July weekend.

The Berkeley Marina firework show has been canceled for the third straight year, with city parks director Scott Ferris citing “the pandemic and financial reasons.” 

And due to high fire danger, city and UC Berkeley officials will close a number of roads and parking lots in the Berkeley Hills that are popular viewing spots for looking out over the Bay. 

Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Centennial Drive will be closed Monday at 6 a.m. to all traffic except residents, who must show proof of residency to pass checkpoints, and will reopen at 5 a.m. on Tuesday. Panoramic Way will also be closed to non-residents Monday from 5-11 p.m. (Berkeley Police and UC Berkeley Police will be enforcing closures within Berkeley.) Closures won’t affect cyclists and pedestrians.

Lawrence Hall of Science and UC Botanical Gardens, as well as their respective parking lots, will be closed. Turnouts on Grizzly Peak will also be closed to vehicles, and no stopping is allowed.

“Wildfire doesn’t know boundaries,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf, explaining the reason for the road closures, which are part of a coordinated effort between agencies throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

In the past, sightseers have “caused overcrowding, illegal parking in the roadway and delayed emergency services’ response to calls for service,” the UC Berkeley Police Department wrote in a community message. Berkeley Fire will be patrolling the hills for illegal firework use Monday with the assistance of volunteer civilian patrols.

This is the fourth year the Grizzly Peak corridor will be closed during the Fourth of July holiday, and Wengraf, who represents most of the Berkeley Hills, declared the closures a success.

“There were no confirmed fires, and significantly reduced crowds and illegal parking at the lookout points, thus allowing first responders to efficiently travel along the ridgeline to respond to 911 calls,” she wrote in an email to constituents on Friday.

Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Park District, which includes Tilden Regional Park and McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, are among those communities where all fireworks, including those labeled “safe and sane,” are banned. In Berkeley, possession of fireworks is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail.

Berkeley police currently do not track firework calls directly, but do keep data on “loud report calls for service that usually are from firework-related incidents,” according to BPD officer Jessica Perry. 

“We have very dry fuel conditions, and obviously our fire service is already going to be stretched this year,” said Michael Gollner, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Cal and director of the Berkeley Fire Research Lab. “Fireworks are just going to be another high-risk ignition source … we don’t want that additional danger.” 

Lisa Bullwinkel, who organized Berkeley’s Fourth of July celebrations at the marina for more than 20 years, said she doesn’t know when it will return. 

“I had a free photo booth at the event,” said Bullwinkel, reminiscing on the many photos she’d see after the day ended — families and smiling kids in Fourth of July hats, glasses and T-shirts, picnicking while listening to music with a stunning view of the water. “I’ve produced probably 200 festivals over the course of my career … but the marina is definitely where they’re the most beautiful.” 

For those missing the Berkeley Marina fireworks show, the show at San Francisco’s Pier 39 remains an option. 

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...