Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and 16,900 outside and other fires, nationally. These fires cause an average of three deaths, 40 civilian injuries and $43 million in direct property damage.
Franklin County Deputy Fire Chief Jay Mason said while he doesn’t recall specific local incidents, national trends show fireworks-related injuries are on the rise.
In 2002, there were 8,800 injuries in the United States from fireworks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2017 Fireworks Annual Report, there were 12,900 people treated in hospital emergency rooms for fireworks related injuries. Of those injuries, 54% were to the extremities and 36% were to the head. Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for more than one-third (36%) of the estimated 2017 injuries.
Eight people, from eight different states, died from fireworks related injuries. One of them was a 4-year-old girl from Wisconsin whose father was lighting fireworks at their home. According to the Commission’s report, “The father put numerous individual sparklers into a piece of metal tube and then secured the tube into a planting pot to make it stay upright.”
After lighting them several times without an issue the man packed sparklers into the tube again and ignited them. The girl was reportedly approximately 10 to 12 feet away from the fireworks. Once the sparklers were lit, the force of the sparklers blew apart the tube, creating shrapnel that struck the victim in the neck. Emergency responders treated the girl without success. She was pronounced dead shortly after midnight.
Mason said sparklers are one of the most common fireworks to cause injuries.
“The reason sparklers are so dangerous is because they burn at 1,200 degrees, which is extremely hot,” Mason said. “To put that in perspective, water boils at 212 (degrees), and glass melts at 900 (degrees).”
Sparklers are legal in Franklin County as are light sparklers, fountains, pinwheels, Pharoah’s Serpents and Whirligigs. There is a list on the Virginia fire marshal’s website that shows all permissible fireworks by name and item number.
However, illegal fireworks include firecrackers, skyrockets, torpedoes and bottle rockets.
“Any firework that explodes, travels laterally, rises into the air or fires projectiles – which would be your roman candles — are prohibited, and that comes out of the state’s fire prevention code,” Mason said.
As of press time there was only one vendor selling fireworks in Franklin County — a vendor set up in the Walmart parking lot in Rocky Mount, who would fall under town permit limitations.
Rocky Mount Fire Chief Justin Woodrow said the town’s restrictions are the same as the county’s.
Mason added vendors who typically set up tents this time of year must have a permit and are inspected by county fire officials to ensure the products for sale are on the list of permissible fireworks.
“My suggestion would be let the professionals do it,” Mason said. “Attend one of your local professional shows whether it be our event here in Franklin County — always a large, nice event — or one of the other local events that has licensed professionals doing the displays.”
The 4th of July Independence Festival in Rocky Mount will be held Wednesday, July 3, at 5 p.m. on the football field at Franklin County High School. Music, games, food, and children’s activities will be followed by fireworks at dark.
Parkway Marina at Smith Mountain Lake will also host a fireworks display Saturday, July 6. The just-after-dark display is the culmination of an on-land event that includes food and craft vendors, music, a “Kids Zone” sponsored by the Moneta YMCA, and the Parkway Marina Carousel.
The event is free; parking is $10 per car. Full details are available at www.svfc-10.com.
Roanoke’s fireworks will take place on July 4 at 9:15 p.m. at the River’s Edge Sports Complex located at 302 Wiley Drive Southwest between Franklin and Jefferson streets.
Martinsville Speedway will also host a fireworks display as part of Celebration 2019 Thursday, July 4 which will feature two bands — Roanoke-based The Worx and Detroit-based Chairmen of the Board.
n Only buy fireworks from a licensed seller (not from someone on the street or from someone’s house).
n Read and follow the directions on the fireworks.
n Keep a bucket of water nearby to extinguish sparklers and fireworks.
n Only use fireworks in an open, outdoor area.
n Light the fireworks on a hard surface or driveway and be cautious of any wind. Do not light them near a structure.
n Have a designated person who avoids alcohol set off the fireworks.
n Do not wear loose clothing when setting off fireworks.
n Do not alter or combine fireworks.
n Aim the firework away from structures, dry leaves, flammable materials and people.
n Never extend a body part over the device.
n Light one firework at a time.
n Never relight a “dud.” Wait 20 minutes after setting off the firework to approach it and then soak it in water.