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Fireworks caution: They may be merely sparklers, but beware

Fire marshal: 'We did not want to see any fireworks legalized'

POSTED: January 10, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle got an unpleasant surprise two years ago when he first saw the newly legalized sparklers for sale at an area big-box retailer.

They weren't just the traditional packets of coated metal wires. These flammable amusements came in a variety of shapes and sizes.

"You could buy a $100 pack of these so-called sparklers," Cagle said. "Some of them are really big. It was then that reality set in. This wasn't in Florida any more; this was in Georgia."

Georgia's fire marshals and firefighters fought against the 2005 state legislation that allowed the sale of sparklers, which can burn at temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees.

"We did not want to see any fireworks legalized," Cagle said. "None of us liked it, but we knew when it was legalized, it was coming."

Now local and state officials can only warn against the hazards and preach parental supervision as New Year's Eve, a prime time for celebratory pyrotechnics, approaches.

Under the strict definition of the law, fireworks now permitted in Georgia include "sparkling items which are nonexplosive and nonaerial and contain 75 grams or less of chemical compound per tube or a total of 200 grams or less for multiple tubes."

Citing 2004 national statistics that some 9,600 people were injured by fireworks and eight people died, state Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine said he would prefer Georgians watch professional displays rather than create their own show.

Even with a countywide burn ban that has lasted for months, Cagle, as fire marshal, is powerless to prevent the use of legalized sparklers.

County governments can, as happened last summer in Waycross, when the Ware County Commission imposed a 60-day ban on the use of sparklers through Independence Day because of wildfires that plagued the region.

Cagle said recent rains have made the area less of a tinderbox than during most of this year's record-breaking drought, "but without the right supervision, it can turn into a bad situation."

The biggest concern, he said, is the potential of serious burns to children, citing the high temperature sparklers reach. "You can get a third-degree burn from 160-degree water in a matter of seconds," he said.

Another concern is the danger posed to property. While all approved commercial fireworks displays have plans that specify where the fallout lands, "Joe Public can go buy sprinklers and shoot them off five feet from his house if he wants to," Cagle said.

The Georgia Forestry Commission estimated that 25 fires were started by fireworks in Georgia in 2006, when drought conditions weren't nearly as bad.

Fire officials say even with the legalization of sparklers, many New Year's and Fourth of July celebrants in Georgia still travel to bordering states to buy bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers and other illicit items.

Cagle predicts the firework companies will lobby lawmakers in coming years to legalize those in Georgia, as well.

The fire marshal is well aware that some folks might not appreciate his view of fireworks. "A lot of times, we have to be the bad guys, but it's for the safety of the people, and the safety of their investments: their homes," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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