A toddler-size doll wearing a pink cotton dress and holding two sparklers in each hand slowly caught fire Monday. It continued to burn until a nearby firefighter hit it with a stream of water from a hose.
The burning doll – demonstrating the potential danger of consumer fireworks – was accompanied by officials who urged North Carolinians to avoid even legal fireworks and to instead attend fireworks displays put on by trained professionals.
“Many people falsely believe that because sparklers and similar fireworks are legal and readily available that they are safe,” said Wayne Goodwin, the state fire marshal and insurance commissioner. “Too often, it’s small consumer fireworks that start fires or cause serious burn injuries.”
Fireworks-related burn injuries spike around the Fourth of July. In 2012, about 8,700 people nationwide ended up in hospital emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
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Of those injuries, 60 percent occurred in the month surrounding the Fourth of July.
“People will say, ‘Gosh, I thought this was going to be safe,’” said trauma surgeon Dr. Bruce Cairns. “We get to see the consequences of the times it doesn’t work.”
Cairns works at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Healthcare in Chapel Hill. He said common sparklers and spinners are often the sources of burns, and the victims are usually children. He sees burns to the hands, face and eyes.
Fire departments see another side of fireworks damage. Last year in North Carolina, firefighters responded to more than 100 fireworks-related calls with an estimated $300,000 worth of property damage.
“It only takes a few seconds to become seriously burned by high-temperature sparklers or other fireworks,” said Interim Deputy Chief Dace Bergen of the Chapel Hill Fire Department.
People can celebrate safely by keeping children away from both fireworks and fire sources, and by refraining from mixing alcohol. If they do choose to use sparklers or other products, they should have a hose nearby and avoid restarting dead fireworks or picking up used ones.
“When you play with fireworks, you are literally playing with fire,” Goodwin said.