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With public fireworks displays largely canceled, officials worry there will be more backyard shows

As Americans across the country prepare to watch the sky light up in colorful blooms of fireworks, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has a message would-be cannoneers: Be safe, abide by local laws and do not bring out the heavy artillery. If you do, you could be injured or fined.

Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said the office experiences about a 25% increase in fireworks complaints in the week leading up to Independence Day, but officials are worried this year that the cancellation of public fireworks events statewide might motivate even more people to make their shows with illegal pyrotechnics.

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Bel Air canceled its long-running fireworks display on May 13 — the second time in 30 years it has done so — in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only were the fireworks put on hold, but all the town’s Fourth of July festivities were canceled.

Havre de Grace, too, has canceled its fireworks display and activities and Darlington, which would’ve had an Independence Day celebration with fireworks last weekend, also canceled.

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“Since all of those have now been canceled, our fear is now people are going across the [Maryland-Pennsylvania] line, purchasing the big stuff, and they are going to be having fireworks shoots in their backyards,” Alkire said.

Most of the higher-powered fireworks found in Maryland come from Pennsylvania, Alkire said. The fire marshal’s office discourages residents from purchasing fireworks across state lines, although it is not prohibited. Lighting them off is, however, and carries the possibility of hefty fines.

Each lit firework, Alkire explained, could result in a $250 fine, and each firework set up could carry another $250 penalty under the charge of possession with intent to discharge a firework. The office aims to confiscate the banned fireworks and educate citizens on what they can and cannot shoot off in Maryland, but they will levy fines if necessary.

Before last year, Pennsylvanians could not buy fireworks at their own states’ shops, Alkire said. If a Pennsylvania ID card was presented at a Pennsylvania fireworks store, they would be turned away. But Maryland IDs were perfectly acceptable, Alkire said. That has since changed, but the issue of Marylanders bringing prohibited fireworks back from the neighboring state has been alive for many years.

As a rule of thumb, Alkire said, shoot fireworks in the same jurisdiction they were purchased; that way, they are sure to be legal. In Harford County, fireworks are illegal except the sparklers and snap-pops — which are not technically defined as fireworks — that can be found in big-box stores like Target and Walmart, he said.

“If you have to cross a state line to purchase fireworks, chances are they will be illegal,” he said.

But even the humble sparkler, which can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit when burning, according to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, is a danger. Alkire cautioned against letting children play with them unsupervised, and discouraged others from drinking alcohol while handling fireworks.

“Fireworks have been a long tradition of the Fourth of July; please make safety your number one priority so everyone can enjoy the holiday season,” he said.

Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kyle Anderson, said the agency receives more complaints of fireworks around the Fourth of July than any other time during the year. Nobody gets a pass because it is Independence Day, Anderson said, though most of the time, the fireworks stop by the time deputies respond to the scene.

Usually a conversation is enough to stop people from shooting off any more. Anderson said the office has not brought charges related to fireworks against anyone this year, to his knowledge.

March through May see few calls for fireworks, but those numbers start to rise in June, and July, according to figures provided by the sheriff’s office. But this June, the office has received more calls about fireworks than the previous three Junes combined.

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In June 2020 alone, they have gotten 87 calls about fireworks, and Andersen said the number of complaints may continue to rise in the absence of public fireworks shows.

According to a 2018 report of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 12,900 Americans were injured by fireworks in 2017. During that same time, eight people were killed.

Maryland is not exempt from those issues, Alkire said — nor is Harford County.

Alkire has seen fires and injuries as a result of fireworks, including amputations, house-fires and damage to the eyes. He asked residents to exercise caution when handling fireworks.

The fire marshal’s office held a fireworks safety news conference June 25 at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville. In addition to a safety briefing, the fire marshal’s bomb squad also demonstrated legal and illegal explosive devices.

For those who are going to be handling legal fireworks this Fourth of July, here are some tips to keep you and your family safe:

  • Only adults should handle fireworks and should supervise all fireworks activity.
  • Refrain from letting small children handle sparklers and have a bucket of water nearby to dispose of them as they can stay hot long after they’ve burned out.
  • Children should never pick up fireworks.
  • Be mindful of any debris from fireworks, especially around grass or brush. Have a connected hose or another water source nearby when using fireworks of any sort.
  • Do not throw fireworks in the air.
  • Be sure to read instructions carefully when using fireworks, only light one at a time and move a safe distance away quickly once lighting the fuse. If the firework does not go off, do not attempt to re-ignite it. Wait 20 minutes, then soak the dud in water before disposing of it.
  • When disposing of any used fireworks, use a metal trash can or other metal container, rather than plastic, such as an old coffee can.


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