The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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July 3, 2014

Officials urge caution in Fourth revelry

— Fireworks are a fun, festive Fourth of July tradition. That is until someone gets hurt or property is destroyed.

State and local agencies agree that no one plans to spend Independence Day in the emergency room or cleaning up after a fire.

But, each Fourth of July thousands of injuries are attributed to the use of fireworks, according to members of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

A 2013 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study revealed eight deaths and an estimated 11,400 consumers sustained injuries related to fireworks across the United States. Sixty-five percent of the injuries occurred within 30 days of July 4, 2013, according to the study.

According to national statistics, of the more than 9,000 fireworks injuries that occur in the U.S. each year, about 45 percent are to children age 15 and under. Most injuries are to the head and eyes and include contusions and lacerations.

Firecrackers, sparklers and bottle rockets are the leading contributors.

Betsy Harris, a spokeswoman for Athens-Limestone Hospital, said six patients visited the emergency room last year with fireworks-related injuries. Those numbers change from year to year, according to Harris.

Her advice — “Safety first.”

Fireworks-related fires

Fireworks also account for two out of five of all reported fires, more than any other cause of fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The Alabama Fire College reports most fireworks-related fires begin in brush or trash and spread to wooded areas, homes and even automobiles. Others begin when fireworks, such as a bottle rocket, lands on a roof and ignite combustibles.

The use of fireworks inside the Athens city limits is prohibited except for permitted shows, according to Athens Fire and Rescue.  Those within the city limits are encouraged to enjoy a free fireworks show Friday at Athens High School starting between 8:30 and 9 p.m., weather permitting.

Fireworks are prohibited outside the city limits. Clements Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jesse Rager said safely shooting fireworks in the county depends a lot on the weather. Some years are dryer than others.

Though everything is green this Fourth of July, Rager advises fireworks enthusiasts to use caution.

“A lot of wheat and hay fields in the area have been cut,” he said. “Be aware where you are shooting the fireworks and where they will possibly land.”

A number of local, state and national agencies offered the following fireworks safety tips:

• Only adults should handle fireworks;

• Make sure spectators are out of range before lighting fireworks;

• Never try to re-ignite duds or fireworks that have malfunctioned;

• Keep a bucket of water, a garden hose or a fire extinguisher handy;

• Keep fireworks on level ground so they don’t fall over when shooting;

• Never throw, point or shoot fireworks toward people, pets, buildings or vehicles;

• Do not use fireworks in a wooded area or from a motor vehicle or vessel. Use fireworks in a clear, open area outdoors. Discharge fireworks within 600 feet on any enclosed building and away from flammables and combustibles;

• Never let children play with or handle sparklers. The temperature of the lighted tip can reach 1200 degrees or greater — hot enough to melt some metals.

“Be safe and if you play with fireworks keep small children away and let the adults shoot them,” Chief Rager said, adding sparklers seem “great and fun,” but they are very dangerous for little ones that may not be familiar with using them.

“State law enforcement agencies are working together with county and municipal agencies to reduce injuries and deaths during this holiday period by enforcing traffic, boating, alcoholic beverage and firework laws,” state Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said.

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