Officials urge caution when celebrating with fireworks

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

DACULA -- In layman's terms, if a firework explodes or takes flight, it's a no-no in Georgia.

Festive and traditional as they may seem, bottle rockets, cherry bombs, Roman candles, firecrackers and their dazzling brethren are simply illegal to ignite or sell in the Peach State.

The reason? State fire officials and local experts explained Wednesday that the illegal class of fireworks burn at higher temperatures, are more likely to cause fires, and cause more human injuries -- especially to hands and eyes -- than their tamer cousins in the legal "sparkler" classification.

In 2008, fireworks were blamed in 1,400 structure fires and thousands of civilian injuries in the United States. States such as New York and Massachusetts have banned fireworks altogether, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

This weekend marks prime time for fireworks-related trouble.

"Each year, we have thousands of people who are injured because of fireworks," said Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine at a Dacula press conference, his backdrop a smoking tower teeming with Gwinnett County Fire Department recruits. "These are not weapons, these are not toys."

A 2005 Georgia law allows "sparkler" fireworks -- fountains, pinwheels, ground spinners and most novelty fireworks. And professional shows will be in abundance in venues across Gwinnett this weekend.

Officials agree: When lighting legal fireworks, caution is paramount.

To elaborate, Oxendine donned wrap-around shades, tucked his tie in his shirt and ignited a glittery, multi-colored fountain called "Night Treasure" for a gathering of metro Atlanta media.

Fines of up to $1,000 and 11 months in jail could apply for anyone caught shooting illegal fireworks, Oxendine said. Enforcement is handled by city and county police.

Vendors caught selling more than $500 in illegal fireworks could be charged with felonies, he said.

"If you buy from a respectable vendor, then you're pretty well assured you're getting legal Georgia fireworks," Oxendine said.

Despite the prevalence of fires related to Fourth of July hoopla, Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said there will be no uptick in holiday manpower.

"We're able to handle it with our normal staffing," he said.