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Fire marshal: Fireworks are dangerous

PULASKI COUNTY — As we draw closer to Independence Day, the pops of fireworks are sure to be more prevalent.
But even if they are legal, caution still is advised to prevent injury or fires. The Virginia Department of Forestry warns the risk of wild fires is significant this year, given the drought conditions.
Pulaski Fire Marshal Chip Hutchinson says he finds some of the fireworks that are legal in Virginia to be just as, if not more, dangerous than the illegal ones.
For example, sparkler fountains are legal, but they “spew sparks out the top for a good two to three minutes.” These sparks not only have the potential to start a grass or woods fire, but they also can ignite clothing, furniture and buildings.
“If I throw a firecracker on that couch, it’ll explode and probably make a burn on the cushion,” Hutchinson said, pointing to a chair in his office. “But if I sit one of the (legal) fountains on there, it’s going to catch the couch on fire and burn this whole building down.”
The same can be said for the legal sparklers that are often given to children to hold. Sparklers can reach temperatures up to 1,000 degrees, so the sparks can burn and ignite clothing or other nearby flammables.
In Virginia, fireworks are generally illegal if they “go up, sideways or bang,” Hutchinson summarized.
The only legal fireworks are sparklers, fountains, Pharaoh’s serpents and poppers.
Some of these products make whistling or popping sounds, but they are legal.
“If it explodes, it’s illegal,” he said.
It is not only illegal to use explosive fireworks, but it also is illegal to possess, buy, sell or transport them.
A conviction is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Firecrackers, bottle rockets, M-80 or M-90s and Roman candles are good examples of illegal fireworks.
As a matter of fact, the M-90s are so dangerous they are federally prohibited and should not even be on the market.
Any that are sold may be homemade, and, therefore, be even more volatile.
Hutchinson cautioned against the use of blasting caps (used to set off dynamite) in place of firecrackers because that practice is extremely dangerous.
While a firecracker may take off a finger if it goes off prematurely, a blasting cap will “take off the entire hand or kill you.”
Showing a paint can that had been damaged by a blasting cap, Hutchinson pointed out that it was not only ripped apart, but also was riddled with small holes that looked as if the can had been subjected to a shotgun blast.
He said the blasting caps also emit small pieces of molten copper that had burned through the can, leaving the small holes.
He urged anyone finding an explosive or anything that looks like an explosive to contact police or his office to dispose of the object.
By no means should they touch it or pick it up, especially since some older blasting caps can be triggered by movement or electrical charges.
Even though the newer blasting caps are not as easily discharged, he asked, “Would you want to risk your life on the chance it’s not an old one?”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 21,000 fireworks-related injuries were treated in 2007.
Children under 17 years of age accounted for 11,000 of the injuries.
Other than injuries, one would think brush fires are the most common negative results of fireworks.
But, in Pulaski County, Hutchinson said, he has seen more structure fires started by the devices.
He explained that the blazes are often caused by someone discharging fireworks indoors.
“We’ve had several of those over the years,” he noted.
He suggested citizens contact his office or local police if they know of someone who is selling illegal fireworks, and “we’ll deal with them.”
He also warned that he will file charges if he catches someone using illegal fireworks.
Hutchinson said some people think Pulaski has extra fireworks ordinances on the books, but they do not.
“We’re just enforcing what’s in the state code,” he said.
Nevertheless, Hutchinson acknowledged it is “almost impossible” to catch someone in the act because so many people have police scanners they know if authorities are dispatched to their properties and stop using them until after the police pass by.
According to the forestry department, a lack of significant rainfall in many areas of the state in June has left dry grasses and trees that are more vulnerable to catching fire from fireworks or sparklers.
“One spark is all it would take for a wildfire to start,” said Fred Turck, VDOF’s assistant director of wildfire prevention and education.
“Fireworks that have finished burning are still extremely hot, and they can smolder in dry grass or leaves before a fire ignites,” he said.
The director of resource prevention encourages everyone to be extra careful with fireworks and sparklers so that the Fourth of July holiday is a day to celebrate the nation’s freedom.
“It should not be a day for fighting wildfires in Virginia,” he said.
VDOF recommends leaving the fireworks displays to the professionals by attending a community display.
Local displays will be held at the New River Valley Fairgrounds off Route 100 at Dublin and at Motor Mile Dragway off Route 11 at Fairlawn. The Dublin display starts at 9:20 p.m. Friday, and the one in Fairlawn starts at 10:30 p.m. Friday.
Hutchinson offered the following suggestions on how to use legal fireworks safely.
• Never allow children to light fireworks;
• Clear the firing area of all debris, combustible materials and people so the are no burns if there should be a misfire;
• Place misfires or duds in a bucket of water and leave overnight.
• Clean up when finished. Place all spent fireworks in the bucket of water, not in trash cans or on porches.
There could be smoldering powder that could ignite and set the house on fire;
• Keep pets away from fireworks. Loud noises can cause them to run off, get injured or even bite someone;
• Never use or handle homemade fireworks.
There is no way to be sure of the amount of powder in them. There may be enough to cause an explosion and cause injuries; and
• Contact the local fire department or the fire marshal with questions about fireworks.

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Fire marshal: Fireworks are dangerous

PULASKI COUNTY — As we draw closer to Independence Day, the pops of fireworks are sure to be more prevalent.
But even if they are legal, caution still is advised to prevent injury or fires. The Virginia Department of Forestry warns the risk of wild fires is significant this year, given the drought conditions.
Pulaski Fire Marshal Chip Hutchinson says he finds some of the fireworks that are legal in Virginia to be just as, if not more, dangerous than the illegal ones.
For example, sparkler fountains are legal, but they “spew sparks out the top for a good two to three minutes.” These sparks not only have the potential to start a grass or woods fire, but they also can ignite clothing, furniture and buildings.
“If I throw a firecracker on that couch, it’ll explode and probably make a burn on the cushion,” Hutchinson said, pointing to a chair in his office. “But if I sit one of the (legal) fountains on there, it’s going to catch the couch on fire and burn this whole building down.”
The same can be said for the legal sparklers that are often given to children to hold. Sparklers can reach temperatures up to 1,000 degrees, so the sparks can burn and ignite clothing or other nearby flammables.
In Virginia, fireworks are generally illegal if they “go up, sideways or bang,” Hutchinson summarized.
The only legal fireworks are sparklers, fountains, Pharaoh’s serpents and poppers.
Some of these products make whistling or popping sounds, but they are legal.
“If it explodes, it’s illegal,” he said.
It is not only illegal to use explosive fireworks, but it also is illegal to possess, buy, sell or transport them.
A conviction is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Firecrackers, bottle rockets, M-80 or M-90s and Roman candles are good examples of illegal fireworks.
As a matter of fact, the M-90s are so dangerous they are federally prohibited and should not even be on the market.
Any that are sold may be homemade, and, therefore, be even more volatile.
Hutchinson cautioned against the use of blasting caps (used to set off dynamite) in place of firecrackers because that practice is extremely dangerous.
While a firecracker may take off a finger if it goes off prematurely, a blasting cap will “take off the entire hand or kill you.”
Showing a paint can that had been damaged by a blasting cap, Hutchinson pointed out that it was not only ripped apart, but also was riddled with small holes that looked as if the can had been subjected to a shotgun blast.
He said the blasting caps also emit small pieces of molten copper that had burned through the can, leaving the small holes.
He urged anyone finding an explosive or anything that looks like an explosive to contact police or his office to dispose of the object.
By no means should they touch it or pick it up, especially since some older blasting caps can be triggered by movement or electrical charges.
Even though the newer blasting caps are not as easily discharged, he asked, “Would you want to risk your life on the chance it’s not an old one?”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 21,000 fireworks-related injuries were treated in 2007.
Children under 17 years of age accounted for 11,000 of the injuries.
Other than injuries, one would think brush fires are the most common negative results of fireworks.
But, in Pulaski County, Hutchinson said, he has seen more structure fires started by the devices.
He explained that the blazes are often caused by someone discharging fireworks indoors.
“We’ve had several of those over the years,” he noted.
He suggested citizens contact his office or local police if they know of someone who is selling illegal fireworks, and “we’ll deal with them.”
He also warned that he will file charges if he catches someone using illegal fireworks.
Hutchinson said some people think Pulaski has extra fireworks ordinances on the books, but they do not.
“We’re just enforcing what’s in the state code,” he said.
Nevertheless, Hutchinson acknowledged it is “almost impossible” to catch someone in the act because so many people have police scanners they know if authorities are dispatched to their properties and stop using them until after the police pass by.
According to the forestry department, a lack of significant rainfall in many areas of the state in June has left dry grasses and trees that are more vulnerable to catching fire from fireworks or sparklers.
“One spark is all it would take for a wildfire to start,” said Fred Turck, VDOF’s assistant director of wildfire prevention and education.
“Fireworks that have finished burning are still extremely hot, and they can smolder in dry grass or leaves before a fire ignites,” he said.
The director of resource prevention encourages everyone to be extra careful with fireworks and sparklers so that the Fourth of July holiday is a day to celebrate the nation’s freedom.
“It should not be a day for fighting wildfires in Virginia,” he said.
VDOF recommends leaving the fireworks displays to the professionals by attending a community display.
Local displays will be held at the New River Valley Fairgrounds off Route 100 at Dublin and at Motor Mile Dragway off Route 11 at Fairlawn. The Dublin display starts at 9:20 p.m. Friday, and the one in Fairlawn starts at 10:30 p.m. Friday.
Hutchinson offered the following suggestions on how to use legal fireworks safely.
• Never allow children to light fireworks;
• Clear the firing area of all debris, combustible materials and people so the are no burns if there should be a misfire;
• Place misfires or duds in a bucket of water and leave overnight.
• Clean up when finished. Place all spent fireworks in the bucket of water, not in trash cans or on porches.
There could be smoldering powder that could ignite and set the house on fire;
• Keep pets away from fireworks. Loud noises can cause them to run off, get injured or even bite someone;
• Never use or handle homemade fireworks.
There is no way to be sure of the amount of powder in them. There may be enough to cause an explosion and cause injuries; and
• Contact the local fire department or the fire marshal with questions about fireworks.

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