Be safe with fireworks – Triangle is a giant tinderbox

Extreme heat left dry conditions that pose a safety hazard for the Fourth of July.

lcarroll@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2012 

  • Fireworks safety tips • Attend public firework shows operated by licensed professionals. • Do not pick up or touch leftover fireworks or debris following a pyrotechnic display. • If you have fireworks for individual use, such as sparklers, follow instructions for proper storage and handling. • Use fireworks away from buildings and dry grass. The safest place is outdoors in a clear area on a hard, flat surface. • Do not attempt to relight a firework that does not initially ignite. Wait 15 minutes, then soak the firework in water and throw it away. • When a firework is finished, soak it in water. • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of an accident.

Fourth of July fireworks require extra caution this year, following a record-breaking heat wave and lasting dry conditions.

Each year on July 4, two out of five fires nationally are caused by fireworks. Although fireworks can ignite fires year-round, hot, dry summer weather can heighten danger. With highs expected in the mid-90s Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, fireworks users and viewers should take precautions, officials say.

“Given the heat and the fact that we are in a drought, there is greater potential for brush fire or any other type of secondary fire,” State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin said. “The greatest danger is from the hot debris falling on flammable objects.”

In 2011, pyrotechnics caused 111 fires in North Carolina, many of which occurred on or around July 4. Property damage totaled $225,000.

“Even with the legal fireworks and pyrotechnic displays,” Goodwin said, “it is vital that both the public and firework operators be very aware of their surroundings.”

Iris Ruiz, who works at a TNT Fireworks stand that sells legal fireworks, said the heat had hurt business, but not because of safety concerns. People have avoided the large outdoor tent stores during the recent sizzling temperatures.

“It’s too hot to even go outside,” Ruiz said.

Customer Carline Clark does not expect the heat to affect her Fourth of July plans. Her family has held a holiday backyard barbecue – complete with fireworks – for several years. The show will go on, she said, and the family will take safety precautions.

“We’re going to [celebrate] at home, where if it’s too hot, we go inside to the air conditioning,” Clark said.

Goodwin said North Carolina pyrotechnic safety has improved dramatically since the 2009 Ocracoke accident in which four people were killed when fireworks exploded in a truck on the island. Following the disaster, the state legislature imposed measures designed to ensure that pyrotechnics are handled by licensed operators and that displays have protected areas with a minimum debris fallout field.

Bottle rockets and other fireworks that explode, spin or leave the ground are illegal in North Carolina unless handled by a licensed operator, though they can be purchased in South Carolina. Other fireworks such as sparklers can be bought here.

Inappropriately launched bottle rockets often can set fire to the roofs of buildings, Goodwin said, and such incidents make up a significant portion of structure fires.

Large public displays have safety measures in place, including firefighters on site before, during and after the shows. But there is still the possibility of an accident, Goodwin added.

Excessive heat can sometimes cause fireworks to ignite without warning. For example, accidental explosions can happen if pyrotechnics are not stored properly.

Sonya Shaw, director of parks and recreation for Garner, said the heat has not had an impact on the town’s Independence Day plans. Garner’s fire department has followed the same standards as in any other year, including wetting the grass where people launch the fireworks.

“Whether it’s 100 degrees or eight degrees, you have the same concerns with fireworks,” she said.

Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen noted that because the city’s display will take place downtown this year, instead of the State Fairgrounds, people will have greater access to air-conditioned space and vendors selling cold beverages. He added that on-site paramedics will be able to treat any heat-related conditions.

“It’s going to be hot but not unusually hot,” Allen said. “People from here are used to dealing with that level of heat.”

Carroll: 919-829-4918

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