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Fireworks safety: Don't Get Burned

POLK COUNTY -- Sparklers -- those ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous fireworks often given to small children to hold and wave around on the Fourth of July -- burn at 1,200 degrees at the tip.

All fireworks -- even those seemingly harmless sparkers -- are dangerous if not handled properly. Small children shouldn't be allowed to light or handle fireworks.

Graphic by Pete Strong/Information from National Fire Prevention Association

All fireworks -- even those seemingly harmless sparkers -- are dangerous if not handled properly. Small children shouldn't be allowed to light or handle fireworks.

July 02, 2013

POLK COUNTY -- Sparklers -- those ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous fireworks often given to small children to hold and wave around on the Fourth of July -- burn at 1,200 degrees at the tip.

That's 300 degrees more heat than what is required to melt glass, and not child's play, according to Neal Olson, Polk County Fire District No. 1 division chief.

"That is a really dangerous thing to put in the hands of a child," he said.

The Fourth of July should be fun and festive -- not scary -- but local fire officials ask families who make a tradition of putting on their own miniature fireworks displays to incorporate some common sense safety measures.

Fireworks sales season runs through Saturday and the State Fire Marshal has issued a reminder to keep things legal when purchasing fireworks.

Oregon law bans fireworks that fly, explode or move more than 6 feet on the ground or more than 12 inches in the air. People caught using or selling illegal fireworks can be fined $500 per violation.

The best way to assure what you are purchasing is legal to use is to buy fireworks only from sellers with state-issued permits.

"And regulations limit where those fireworks may be used," said Oregon State Fire Marshal Mark Wallace. "For example, fireworks are prohibited on all Oregon beaches, in parks and campgrounds."

Polk No. 1's Olson added that fireworks are also banned from state and federal forest lands.

This year, as July 4 lands in the middle of the first extended heatwave of the summer, local fire officials are stressing caution even more than normal.

"The week before July 4 is going to be nice and hot, which reduces fuel moisture," Olson said, adding the hot weather looks like it will carry through the week after the Fourth, too. "With low fuel moisture and extra sparks, it's just a higher concern."

Olson said the best place to light fireworks is on a driveway, large concrete slab or gravel area, as far away as possible from grass and vegetation or other flammable materials.

"And never light fireworks in your hand and throw them," he added.

Sparklers burn at 1,200 degrees at the tip.

Graphic by Pete Strong

Sparklers burn at 1,200 degrees at the tip.

Injuries from fireworks result in, on average, about 200 visits to the emergency room every day nationwide on the days leading up to and after July 4, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

To prevent fire and injury, Olson advises to have a bucket of water handy for soaking spent fireworks and "duds" and cautions to not allow small children to light fireworks of any sort.

"An adult should always be the one lighting fireworks," Olson said. "We know that is tough because they (children) just want to light them."

Even older children should be allowed to light fireworks only under adult supervision.

Olson uses a July 4 house fire his agency responded to a number of years ago as a cautionary tale.

He said the fire started with a group of kids who were lighting bottle rockets -- illegal by the way -- by themselves on a hot July 4. One of the bottle rockets flew into a house and into a pile of laundry, but the children didn't see it.

"The kids couldn't find it, so out of sight, out of mind, they go back to playing, but pretty soon their house is on fire," Olson said.

According to the state fire marshal, there were 161 reported fireworks-related fires in Oregon in 2012, causing more than 36 injuries and more than $230,000 in damages.

"All Oregonians share the responsibility to use only legal fireworks and use them carefully," Wallace said.

Fireworks Safety Tips

The four "B's"

* BE PREPARED before lighting fireworks: keep water available by using a garden hose or bucket.

* BE SAFE when lighting fireworks: keep children and pets away from fireworks.

* BE RESPONSIBLE after lighting fireworks: never relight a dud. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then soak it in a bucket of water before disposal.

* BE AWARE: use only legal fireworks and use them only in legal places.

Source: Oregon State Fire Marshal.

Fireworks `Do's and Don'ts'

DO:

* Have knowledgeable supervision by an experienced adult if you choose to use fireworks.

* Buy fireworks from reputable dealers.

* Read warning labels and follow all instructions.

* Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher on hand.

* Light fireworks one at a time.

* Dispose of all fireworks properly.

* Once you light a fireworks device immediately back up to a safe distance.

DON'T:

* Give any fireworks, including sparklers, to small children; older children should be supervised by a responsible adult.

* Light fireworks indoors or near other objects.

* Place your body over a fireworks device when trying to light the fuse.

* Point or throw fireworks at another person -- ever.

* Try to relight or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.

* Wear loose clothing while using fireworks.

* Set off fireworks in glass or metal containers -- the fragments can cause severe injury.

* Carry fireworks in a pocket.

* Try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks.

Source: American College of Emergency Physicians.