With so many cookouts, pool parties and gatherings taking place on July 4, people in Martinsville and Henry County are bound to have a blast. However, bangs they should leave out of their celebrations are illegal fireworks.
On top of potentially being charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor – which comes with up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine – people with illegal fireworks could cause extreme damage to property and run the risk of harming themselves or others.
Ted Anderson, Martinsville Fire Department’s fire chief and fire marshal, shed light on the devices that could spark imagination and the ones that could ignite trouble.
“If it leaves the ground or goes ‘boom,’ it’s illegal,” Anderson said.
Also, just because fireworks have crossed state lines doesn’t make them legal. Those traveling through nearby states hosting fireworks superstores – like Tennessee and South Carolina, for example – should check the characteristics of the device before igniting the fuse in Virginia.
Conversely, just because fireworks came from a store in Virginia doesn’t mean it’s inherently safe.
“They can be very, very dangerous if they’re not handled properly,” Anderson said.
Items as common as sparklers can spark problems.
“Even with those you have to be very careful,” Anderson said. “The temperature of a sparkler can reach upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 degrees, Fahrenheit, so make sure it’s used properly.”
To ensure proper usage, as with any flammable or explosive device, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and also use common sense.
“The warning markings are placed on the boxes for a reason, usually because someone’s tried to do it before,” Anderson said. “Be very cautious. Be very careful.”
The fire chief encouraged parents, grandparents and caregivers to keep an especially close eye on the youngest members of the family.
“Watch children. They could be out there twirling them, and they could get close to another child,” Anderson said.
If sparklers touch skin, hair or clothing, a fun night could quickly escalate into a big problem. This simple handheld device could burn someone or even light them on fire.
“Make sure you are keeping an eye on them at all times,” Anderson said. “And don’t forget what you learned in elementary school: stop, drop and roll.”
Adults also sometimes need reminders of proper sparkler safety practices. Although the incident didn’t occur locally, Anderson said he knew of someone putting sparklers on a birthday cake during an indoor party, which caught an entire apartment complex on fire.
“Make sure all of this is done outdoors,” Anderson said.
Although all personal fireworks should occur outside, not everyone should be in the yard waiting to enjoy them. For pets, the fiery devices can be frightening.
“I definitely recommend pets stay inside for many reasons,” Anderson said. “Loud noises can scare them. They might run away or run into traffic. I’ve even heard of them running to them [the fireworks] and biting at the fireworks. And with the loud noises, their ears are more sensitive than ours.”
When setting up a home fireworks display, it’s a good practice to have a water hose handy, as well as a bucket full of water and a damp towel.
“It’s not a bad idea to wet the ground before the display,” Anderson said. “With this hot weather, even with the possibility of rain, notice how dry the ground is going to be, how dry the vegetation is going to be.”
Another fireworks safety tip arises with explosives that don’t go off as anticipated. If fireworks appear to produce a dud, Anderson urged special caution.
“You definitely do not want to touch them immediately. Drown it in copious amounts of water. Douse it with the hose. You can even bury it in place,” Anderson said. “Even though you don’t see it burning, that fuse could still be lit and just a little bit of air could set it off. Be extremely careful.”
Anderson encouraged those with personal fireworks displays to wait for a while before attempting to clean up.
“Give it a little bit of time before you clean up,” Anderson said. “Make sure it’s done what it has to do.”
For those anxious or nervous about hosting their own display, there are several opportunities to see a great, professional show in Martinsville, including the Celebration at the Martinsville Speedway taking place on Thursday and the Martinsville Mustangs baseball game taking place at Hooker Field on Friday. There’s also a community celebration in Stuart that ends with fireworks.
“We want everybody to enjoy the celebration, but most importantly to be safe,” Anderson said.
Amie Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org