Fireworks are as much a part of Fourth of July festivities as spending the time with friends and family. Still, Farmington fire officials are urging residents to use a little courtesy, common sense and -- above all -- caution when lighting off fireworks these next few weeks.
"People are going to do fireworks," Farmington fire chief Tim Pietsch said. "The biggest thing is just to make sure they're done in close supervision and under controlled circumstances. We don't want to put somebody's house fire out because they were negligent with their fireworks."
Sound a bit extreme? Maybe so, but last year Farmington firefighters assisted Lakeville in putting out a house fire that started when a lit firework set the roof of a Eureka Township home on fire. This past Sunday, a small blaze started in St. Paul after someone was shooting off fireworks, Pietsch said.
Consumer fireworks were illegal in Minnesota for many years, although many folks made the short trip to Wisconsin to purchase their goods. In 2002, though, the law changed, allowing certain non-aerial and non-explosive types of fireworks -- sparklers, ground spinners and so on -- to be purchased and lit legally in the state.
And, Pietsch said, that's about the time the state's statistics on firework-related injuries started to climb. In 2002, there were 92 firework-related injuries reported from June 25 through July 15.
"That was about a 300 percent increase over 2001," Pietsch said.
At least in Minnesota, most of those injuries are happening to younger kids. Farmington fire marshal John Powers said the rate of injury is about 2 1/2 times greater for kids ages 5-9. Most of those injuries are because they are burned while playing with sparklers.
"Sparklers are the No. 1 cause of injury," Powers said. "They burn at about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which could easily ignite clothing."
Of all the firework-related injuries, about 49 percent are burns, Powers said. Another 33 percent are lacerations or sprains people receive when they fall while trying to get away from a lit firework.
Pietsch said statistics also show that more males have been injured by fireworks than females, and that alcohol can also lead to problems.
"The females are not all that interested in making things go boom. Their injuries are much less than the male end of it," Pietsch said. "Mix in some fireworks and a little over-indulgence, and things usually go south."
For those who are going to do a ground display, Powers recommends lighting the fireworks on a solid surface like a driveway, because grass can catch fire. He also suggests there should be plenty of clearance from the home and from spectators. Children should be supervised at all times when handling any kind of firework, and caution should be used when picking up a "dud" firework, even to the extent of dousing it with water before touching it. Many burns, he said, come from people trying to pick up a firecracker that is still lit.
Powers and Pietsch both know many people still make that drive to Wisconsin in the summer months -- after all, in Wisconsin, it's not illegal to purchase the aerial-type or the explosive-type of fireworks, no matter where someone is from. But it is illegal to bring those fireworks back into Minnesota. Just being in possession of such fireworks is a chargeable offense.
Both Pietsch and Powers urge anyone who has fireworks to be courteous to their neighbors and refrain from lighting off fireworks too late into the evening.