Fireworks can be fun, but personal use is illegal

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 2, 2001

Austin area residents may choose to light up the sky with their own fireworks this year in addition to viewing the two professional shows at the SPAMTOWN USA Festival this year.

Monday, July 02, 2001

Austin area residents may choose to light up the sky with their own fireworks this year in addition to viewing the two professional shows at the SPAMTOWN USA Festival this year.

Email newsletter signup

But they forego safety and the law in doing so.

Minnesota is one of 12 states that ban fireworks. Minnesotans who want fireworks sneak them in from stores in Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Using fireworks is a misdemeanor charge, with fines up to $700 or jail time up to 90 days or both.

"It’s illegal and people need to obey the law," Sheriff Barry Simonson said of fireworks use.

Very few arrests have been made in the Austin area, he said. When police do find people using fireworks, they confiscate them and put them under water so they cannot be used, Simonson added.

About 8,000 Americans are injured by fireworks each year, according to the Sight and Hearing Association. Eye injuries and burns are the most common.

The Sight and Hearing Association started a program this summer with the Phillips Eye Institute to warn people about fireworks and eye safety by passing out information cards on fireworks risks.

"Our goal is for people to just think about it," Julee Penton Sylvester, Sight and Hearing Association director of public relations and marketing, said. "Maybe we can prevent one injury."

Hearing injuries can also be a concern, she said. Most firecrackers are at 125 decibels, which is in the "pain threshold," Penton Sylvester said. Ear protection should be worn when noise is higher than 85 decibels.

"Some of them are a concern if they shoot by your ear," Penton Sylvester said. "Anything close to your ear poses a risk."

People who work at professional fireworks shows are required to wear ear protection, she said.

At the fireworks shows this summer safety is a concern. The Austin fire and police departments will be near the fireworks display sites in case of an emergency, SPAMTOWN USA Festival director Cindy Samuel said. The fireworks display artists are licensed, she added.

"It is a very dangerous procedure," Samuel said. "But all safety precautions are followed to a T. I thank the Austin Law Enforcement Center and the Fire Department for their help each year."

Bottle rockets are the most dangerous because they can move as fast as 200 mph and fly in any direction. About 67 percent of injuries are caused by them, according to the United States Eye Injury Registry.

Sparklers, often considered safe and given to children, burn at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Sparklers are the second highest cause of fireworks injuries leading to hospitalization, according to the Phillips Eye Institute.

About 55 percent of fireworks-related injuries are burns, usually on the hands, eyes and face, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Males are at the greatest risk for injury. Men between the ages of 22 and 24 and boys ages 12 to 14 are the most common users of fireworks, the Sight and Hearing Association said. About 75 percent of those injured by fireworks were males, the CPSC said.

Homemade fireworks are usually more dangerous than commercial ones because those who create them combine chemicals from other devices to make bigger explosions, the Sight and Hearing Association said. More than 30 percent of fireworks injuries over the past 10 years have been caused by illegal or homemade fireworks, the National Council on Fireworks Safety said.

The July 4 fireworks show will last 25 to 30 minutes at Horace Austin Park. On July 8, the show will coordinate with "Stars and Stripes Forever" played by the Austin Community Band at Bandshell Park. Some fireworks are so large that they will have to be fired electronically.

"They do a marvelous job," Samuel said of Rich Brothers Fireworks Co., which has put on a show in Austin for a number of years.

Call Cari Quam at 434-2214 or e-mail her at