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Officials urge revelers to leave fireworks to professionals
Mary Beth Conway sets up a display at a temporary fireworks stand on the parking lot of Washington Square plaza - photo by Tom Reed

As fireworks stands pop up along the state’s roadsides, area officials urge families to stay safe and be smart.

Accidents in the area have become more frequent since the state began to allow the sale of small fireworks and sparklers, Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said.

“We’ve had some minor influxes of grass fires and woods fires,” Cagle said. “We have noticed a small influx of those types of calls.”

In 2005, state law changed to legalize some fireworks in the state. But their sale is limited — if the fireworks blow up or elevate off the ground, they’re not OK in Georgia, said John Oxendine, the state’s insurance and safety fire commissioner.

“We want everyone to buy good, legal, Georgia fireworks,” Oxendine said.

But for Gainesville resident Brian Johnson, who walked away from the Phantom Fireworks tent on John Morrow Parkway with a plastic bag full of sparklers, the legalization of fireworks wasn’t a big deal.

“They’d just cross the state lines and spend their money elsewhere (if the sparklers weren’t legal),” Johnson said. “If they had to do it in another state, they probably would.”

Brian Battaglia, Phantom Fireworks regional manager, had a similar opinion.

“You still have people that want the stuff that you can’t sell here,” he said. “And some of them will still make the drive. The stuff that we sell is most appealing to families, people with kids and people that don’t want to break the law.”

Oxendine cited a recent bottle rocket incident in Jackson County as the “prime example” of illegal fireworks in Georgia.

“One of the bottle rockets landed on the roof of a house and burned the house down,” he said.

But even the smaller, legal sparklers can be dangerous, Cagle said, remembering a fire a few years ago caused by a smoldering sparkler thrown away in a trash can.

He said people should always keep a bucket of water nearby to extinguish the sparkler, and an adult should always be present and in charge. He said kids shouldn’t play with fireworks at all.

“That is sending a mixed message to our children,” Cagle said. “We tell kids not to play with fire, but then we hand them a sparkler that burns at 1,200 degrees.”

Other safety tips include lighting fireworks only on concrete or asphalt surfaces and keeping them away from houses and other buildings.

But the best way to stay safe would be to leave the blasts and blazes to the professionals, Cagle said, encouraging people to go to one of the several fireworks shows in the Hall County area instead.

“They’re much more enjoyable than the Georgia-approved fireworks,” Cagle said. “And there’s no work. You just sit there and enjoy the fireworks.”

The American Legion will host a fireworks show July 4 at Laurel Park. Gates open at noon and the sparks fly at dusk.

But whether you celebrate in your own backyard or with others at a professional show, for Phantom Fireworks tent operator Mary Beth Conway, it’s all about the patriotism.

“It’s just a reminder of what a great country we live in,” Conway said. “People need to remember what the Fourth of July is really about. It’s a lot of fun, but the founding fathers paid their debt, and we need to remember the price they paid.”