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Drought increases fireworks hazard
Gwinnett Fire says to leave displays to the professionals

LAWRENCEVILLE - With the drought worsening, Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine warns Georgia residents to exercise extra caution with fireworks this July Fourth.

"We are very concerned about drought conditions," Oxendine said. "Wildfires are a serious possibility."

Gwinnett, an area of the state in an extreme drought stage, is highly susceptible to these dangers.

"Vegetation is going to be much, much drier," Oxendine said.

Captain Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services, advised that fireworks be left to the professionals.

"With the many opportunities to get together and view professional fireworks displays, why take any risks?" Rutledge said.

Though "sparklers," which include fountains, crackling ground items, smoke balls, snakes, ground spinners and pinwheels, are legal in Georgia, both fire officials expressed the concern that sparks from the fallout of these fireworks are especially dangerous in drier conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006, 11 people died and an estimated 9,200 were treated in emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries throughout the United States. More than two-thirds of these injuries occurred around July Fourth. Oxendine advised proper use and adult supervision to prevent injury, as even sparklers can burn at temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Let the kids sit back and enjoy, but only adults need to be handling fireworks, especially this year," he said.

Here are some safety tips Rutledge and Oxendine listed for an enjoyable July Fourth experience at home:

1. Use a level surface: Fireworks can tip over if lit on uneven ground and can shoot sparks onto people nearby. Allow enough room for proper functioning of fireworks, away from buildings and vehicles.

2. Stay near nonflammable surfaces: If leaves, pine straw or bushes are nearby, the fire hazard increases drastically because vegetation is extremely dry.

3. Keep a water source nearby: Attacking a fire within the first 5 to 10 seconds is crucial, because fires can spread fast in the current conditions.

4. Read and follow the directions on fireworks packages: All heavy-duty fireworks must be placed on the ground before being lit. Never light fireworks while holding them in your hands. Inspect fireworks for defects.

5. Wear safety glasses: Eyes and hands are the most-often-injured body parts from fireworks. Avoid bending close to fireworks to light them.

6. Don't use illegal fireworks: The fireworks that are illegal in Georgia, such as firecrackers, skyrockets and cherry bombs, are generally propelled devices that can spark vegetation easily. The sale and use of illegal fireworks can result in fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. For information on approved fireworks, visit the Fire Marshal's Web site at www.gwinnettfiremarshal.

com.

7. Never attempt to fix or re-ignite malfunctioning fireworks. Instead, soak them in a bucket of water and discard of them properly.

8. Ignite only one firework at a time and use a punk or fireplace lighter. Remember to keep a safe distance between yourself and the firework.

9. Before going in for the night, remember to inspect the area where fireworks are used. Make sure that no smoldering fires or sparks are present from falling firework debris. Wet down the area with a garden hose for added protection.

10. Store left over fireworks in a cool, dry place, out of the reach of small children or pets and away from open flames. Always soak fireworks in a bucket of water for several hours before discarding them.

"Enjoy the independence of our great country by celebrating safely and responsibly," Rutledge said.

SideBar: Fourth Activities

Here's a look at Fourth of July celebrations around Gwinnett:

· BRASELTON: "Celebrate Braselton," the town's Independence Day celebration, will include a parade, vendors and live music from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Friday at Braselton Park. At dusk, Chateau Elan will host a fireworks show. The festivities are free. For more information, call 706-654-3915.

· DULUTH: "Duluth Salutes America," featuring the United States Special Operations Command Parachute Team, will start at 6 p.m. Thursday at Scott Hudgens Park, 4545 Rivergreen Parkway. There will also be a live band, food and fireworks. The event is free. For more information, call 770-476-3434.

· LAKE LANIER ISLANDS: "Light Up the Lake Fireworks Independence Day Celebration" will be held from 10 a.m. until dark Friday at the Lake Lanier Islands Resort's Beach and Water Park, 7000 Holiday Road. There will be live entertainment, games, family fun, poolside activities and a fireworks show at dusk. The cost is adults, $27.99; children 42 inches and under, $17.99; under 3, free. For more information, call 770-932-7200.

· LAWRENCEVILLE: "Prelude to the 4th" will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse, 185 Crogan St. The Aurora Theatre will present "Oklahoma!" There will also be a fireworks display accompanied by a live rendition of "Stars and Stripes." The event is free. For more information, call 678-226-2639.

"Gwinnett Glows," featuring arts and crafts, free children's activities and a live band, will be held Friday at the Historic Courthouse Square in Downtown Lawrenceville at 185 Crogan St. In addition to clowns, face painting, a fire juggler and trackless train rides, "Gwinnett Glows" will have a rock climbing wall, pony rides and live appearances from popular children's characters. The event is free. For more information, call 678-226-2639.

· NORCROSS: The "Norcross pre-Independence Day Celebration" will be held from 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday at the Norcross Historic District at the intersection of South Peachtree Street and Jones Street. The event will feature clowns, magicians, live music, food, games and rides. The cost is free. For more information, call 770-448-2122.

· STONE MOUNTAIN: The "Fantastic Fourth Celebration" will be held at

9:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Stone Mountain Park. Beginning with the Lasershow Spectacular, the event will conclude with a traditional fireworks display Friday. Bursts of light will be shot from both the base and the top of the mountain. The laser show and fireworks are free; parking is $10. For more information, call 770-498-5690.

· SUGAR HILL: "Sparks in the Park" will be held from 6:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday at E.E. Robinson Park, 850 Level Creek Road. The celebration will include live music, rides, fireworks and a movie. Listen to a performance by the Dave Matthews Tribute Band and watch "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." All festivities are free. For more information, call 770-831-7413.