Use caution around all fireworks, including sparklers
Nothing embodies the spirit and celebrations of Independence Day quite like a grand fireworks show.
And with Virginia’s fireworks regulations, touted as “safe and sane,” it seems local residents and families should enjoy the upcoming holiday safely.
But fireworks, even those considered within the bounds of reasonable safety, can cause problems if mishandled or tampered with.
And the 30 days surrounding the July Fourth holiday are the most dangerous, with a majority of yearly firework accidents happening in this monthlong timeframe.
In 2013, four people died in Virginia due to accidents involving fireworks. All of these incidents happened in June or July, according to data released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
There were eight deaths nationally, just more than the average of 6.7 annual deaths because of firework mishandling or malfunction.
Most firework deaths occur because the beautiful explosives are set off indoors or modified to produce bigger, more spectacular booms.
But that isn’t true of firework injuries. The firework most responsible for burns, especially among the very young, is the seemingly innocuous sparkler.
Burning at more than 1,000 degrees, sparklers pose a serious threat to young children and even adults who aren’t prepared for the extreme heat when dealing with the used remains of the sparkler, usually seen as harmless.
With at least 2,300 injuries from sparklers, these little shimmering sticks accounted for 31 percent of all firework injuries last year, according to the CPSC.
By comparison, fountains accounted for just 200 injuries total, despite their far more intimidating spray of sparks.
The most certain way to stay safe is to not play with fireworks at all. Instead, officials recommend watching public fireworks displays which usually include the illegal fireworks consumers most want to see.
If setting off fireworks at home is a must, people should be sure to do so outside and a safe distance from any houses or other flammable structures. Be careful of dry grass that can easily catch fire.
Children, especially those under 5, should never be allowed to light a firework. Adults should read and follow all directions and warning labels.
And keep in mind that a ‘dud’ firework that fails to deploy after being ignited should never be lit again or tampered with. Instead, leave the firework for at least 15 minutes, then soak it in water. Soak all used fireworks in water before disposing of them.
In Virginia, firework regulations are tight. Statewide restrictions allow consumers to buy sparklers, whirligigs and pinwheels, fountains and pharaoh’s snakes. Fireworks that explode, shoot off projectiles or travel up into the air are prohibited without a permit.
Even with strict regulations, though, Virginia fire marshals face a difficult time enforcing the law.
Because some surrounding states, such as Pennsylvania and South Carolina, have lax regulations, many Virginians simply cross state lines to skirt the law at home, said Fredericksburg Fire Marshal Parris Sachs.
But doing so carries a criminal charge and can result in fines or even arrests. Last year, Fredericksburg police responded to 14 incidents involving fireworks between July 3 and July 5. In most cases, violators receive warnings or citations, but the police did arrest two individuals for possession of illegal fireworks on July Fourth, said police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe.
The fire department will confiscate any illegal fireworks they find.
Police and all of the Fredericksburg fire marshals will be patrolling and responding to complaints of illegal fireworks throughout the holiday weekend.
Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417
STATE LAWS ON FIREWORKS
The Virginia Department of Forestry posts a complete list of state regulations along with tips for staying safe on its website: dof.virginia.gov/fire/safety/fireworks.htm.