In July 2018, a 24-year-old man died in Cheraw, S.C., when he was struck in the chest by a mortar shell type of firework.
He made the mistake of holding the device – and the additional error of holding it backwards — when it went off. This was among at least five fireworks-related deaths nationwide last year.
Fireworks were involved in about 9,100 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2018, with over half occurring between June 22 and July 22. Nearly half of those injured were under age 20, and the most common age was children between 10 and 14 years old.
Attempts to show off on social media are prompting increasingly foolish acts with fireworks.
Although it’s illegal to shoot off or even possess exploding or aerial fireworks in North Carolina without a county permit, it’s easy enough for Wilkes Countians to drive over to northeastern Tennessee and buy them or get them in South Carolina on the way to the beach.
As a result, illegal fireworks will often be heard this week in Wilkes. Enforcement of state law regarding fireworks is complaint-driven and charges for violations are rare locally.
Most fireworks-related violations are misdemeanors punishable with fines, but jail time is possible if a person or property is physically damaged by fireworks.
Although sparklers, fountains, smoke bombs and novelty fireworks that don’t explode or leave the ground are legal to possess and use in North Carolina without a permit, they can be dangerous. Sparklers can reach temperatures of around 2,000 degrees and are the most common cause of fireworks injuries.
Oft-cited safety guidelines for using sparklers include:
• never hand a lighted sparkler to another person. Give an unlit sparkler and then light it. If a child is holding the sparkler, have an adult light it;
• light and hold only one sparkler at a time;
• those using sparklers should be at least six feet from each other. Never use a sparkler when sitting down or holding a child;
• realize that sparks from sparklers can ignite clothing, so avoid loose fitting clothes that could catch fire. Wear closed-toe shoes and never flip-flops or go barefoot when around sparklers;
• the sparkler wire stays hot long after the flame has burned out, so drop used sparklers directly in a bucket of water;
• don’t wave sparklers and certainly don’t throw them.
With fireworks in general:
• always have eye protection if lighting fireworks;
• store fireworks in cool, dry places away from children;
• don’t direct fireworks toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials;
• stay at least 500 feet from professional fireworks displays;
• leave any place where anyone untrained is using fireworks.
There’s no disputing that fireworks are fun — the louder and brighter the better. That is why throngs will gather in the Wilkesboros Thursday night to watch the annual display at Memorial Park.
It’s also why many will have their own private shows this week with fireworks brought in from out of state.
Don’t let these gatherings lead to painful accidents and tragedy.