Fireworks pose dual threat, officials say

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    By KEVIN ELZE

    As if the usual safety concerns surrounding fireworks were not enough, local firefighters fear that holiday fireworks celebrations will add fuel to wildfires that have ravaged Utah, Arizona and Nevada this year.

    According to Provo City Fire Marshall Dennis Moss, an early spring runoff has spurred vegetation growth on mountainsides. When dry, this vegetation causes fires to move with greater ease.

    “If we do get a fire on the side of a mountain it could be an extremely volatile situation, just as we have across the lake,” Moss said.

    Many mountain fires, he said, have been caused by fireworks.

    “Usually it is just someone who lives in the hills lighting off bottle rockets,” Moss said. “You have no control over where they are going to go.”

    As we commemorate our national beginnings this Independence Day, fireworks will play a big part in the celebration. Whether it is a large fireworks show or a small neighborhood spectacle, most will be involved with fireworks in some way this holiday season.

    Approximately 70 million Americans sustain nonfatal injuries each year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that approximately 10,000 have been injured annually in fireworks-related incidents over the past decade, with serious misuse of the product accounting for a large majority of those accidents.

    Fireworks account for only about 0.01 percent of all injuries in the United States. Even so, people as well as property do get burned by fireworks.

    “Most of the injuries are minor burns and eye injuries,” Moss said. “The biggest problem we have with them is fire. It seems that every year we get vacant lot fires and fires up on the mountain.”

    According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals, on average, treat one fireworks-related injury per year.

    In 1994, the United States Fire Administration reported that there were 898,905 fires in the United States with a total dollar loss of more than $4 billion. Of those fires, fireworks accounted for 6,076 of them and resulted in almost $8 million in damage.

    To avoid injury and property damage people are encouraged to find a good clear area in the middle of the street to set off their fireworks.

    “Obviously not in the middle of University Avenue, but maybe in a nice cul-de-sac is where people should light them off,” Moss said.

    Although there is no age limit, small children should never handle fireworks and their use should always be supervised by an adult.

    Children ages 5 to 14 are most frequently involved in fireworks-related injuries, demonstrating the need for close adult supervision of all fireworks activities.

    Fireworks that are leaking powder, appear to be old or show signs of mishandling should be avoided. Also, fireworks that have been wet and then dried can cause problems to the chemical powder inside the fireworks. Illegal fireworks are also more apt to cause injury.

    Fireworks purchased at stands are legal, Moss said, while those purchased out-of-state or on the street are generally illegal.

    Illegal fireworks include bottle rockets, firecrackers and roman candles.

    “If it leaves the ground, chances are it is illegal,” Moss said. “Lately we’ve been seeing quite a few aerial shells, like the ones in the big shows. They are also illegal.

    Most of the out-of-state fireworks that are being brought in to Utah are coming by way of Wyoming.

    The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that all fireworks contain the name of the item, the name of the manufacturer or distributor and easy-to-read cautionary labeling and instructions for proper use. If not, the fireworks may have been made illegally and could be very unsafe.

    Moss said that if illegal fireworks are found they will be confiscated and citations written. The citation for possessing illegal fireworks is a Class B misdemeanor and does not go on one’s criminal record.

    The large shows that do involve larger airborne fireworks are regulated by the fire station. For these types of fireworks, a “fall-out zone” is required to launch them, which takes into account any fireworks accidentally igniting anything close to the show.

    “We take a lot of precautions,” Moss said. “Most of the problems that we run into are people who go through the zone to look for duds that maybe didn’t go off.”

    If a dud is found, people should stay away from it and report it to the fire department immediately. Some of the large aerial fireworks that are used for the shows may still go off, no matter how long it has been since it was initially lighted. They are sensitive to movement and could go off unexpectedly.

    Last year someone turned a “dud firework” over to the Provo Fire Department and put it on Moss’ desk.

    “I was surprised and a little nervous,” said Moss, when he found the firework. “It could have easily gone off and caused a real problem.”

    Another problem with public shows is the wind. Large gusts can result in cancellation, although most shows continue once the wind has subsided.

    Last year, Provo’s “Stadium of Fire” had to be stopped for 12 minutes because of a sudden wind change that started blowing smoke into the stadium. The smoke made it difficult for many to see the show while others reported problems breathing

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