Fireworks damage topped $1.7M in 2014; Sparklers cause most injuries

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, June 30, 2015

By Andy Rathbun

St. Paul Pioneer Press

St. Paul — The dollar loss attributed to property damage caused by fireworks in 2014 was the highest in at least a decade, according to Minnesota’s Public Safety Department.

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Last year, 37 cases were reported to the Minnesota Fire Incident Reporting System, with the damage totaling $1,748,610.

Of that amount, $1.3 million was attributed to a vehicle storage fire in Zumbrota, but the total cost of the other incidents last year — two of which made up a large amount of the remaining total — still is higher than any year going back to at least 2004.

Although the total cost rose, the number of incidents was the second lowest in 10 years, behind only 22 incidents in 2011. The highest in the past decade was 175 in 2007.

“I don’t think people do consider the danger when it comes to property damage,” said Jen Longaecker, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal division.

She warned that flying fireworks, which are illegal in Minnesota, can land on a roof where they might smolder or ignite dry materials.

“And all of a sudden, we have a real emergency and a house fire,” Longaecker said.

This is the time of year when hospitals see the largest number of fireworks-related injuries.

There were 71 injuries related to fireworks reported by Minnesota hospitals in 2014 — up from the 57 seen in 2013, but not as many as were reported in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012.

Of those injures last year, nine were caused by bottle rockets, five by firecrackers, seven by mortar fireworks, five by Roman candles, three by smoke bombs, 13 by sparklers and 10 by other types of fireworks, according to the public safety department. Nineteen other injuries were caused by unknown types of fireworks.

Longaecker noted that her department views those numbers as “really low,” because many injuries go unreported.

“Now’s the time when it’s happening — you can already hear them in your neighborhood,” she said. “So, this is kind of that week when we expect those injuries to happen.”

More than 50 percent of reported injuries caused by fireworks involve burns, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which conducted a national study last year.

An estimated 10,500 fireworks-related injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms last year, with most occurring between June 20 and July 20.

At 36 percent, hands and fingers received the highest percentage of injuries. Eyes followed at 19 percent. Faces, head and ears combined for another 19 percent.

Children from 5 to 9 years old had the highest rate of treated fireworks-related injuries, and males were much more likely to be hurt, receiving nearly three-quarters of the injuries looked at in the commission’s study.

Between 2000 and 2014, an estimated 106 fireworks-related deaths occurred in the U.S. — an average of 7.1 a year according to the commission. Last year, at least 11 deaths occurred.

In Minnesota, any fireworks that fly or explode are illegal, including firecrackers, sky rockets, bottle rockets and Roman candles. Legal fireworks in the state include wire sparklers, wood sparklers, snakes, glow worms, smoke devices, snappers and drop caps.

The public safety agency recommends that families use fireworks in open areas away from houses and not allow children to run through the area. People should be especially cautious using fireworks around children.

A long lighter should be used, and people should stay as far away from the wick as possible. (A dud should never be re-lit.)

Also have a bucket of water nearby and put spent sparklers in it. “These things get so hot,” Longaecker said of sparklers, which can burn at up to 1,200 degrees.

“We hand these to kids and say, ‘Go play with this,’” Longaecker said. “It’s really easy to see how you can get injured pretty easily, even with the legal fireworks.”

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.