As revelers gather across Louisiana for an explosive finish to the year, officials have fireworks safety hazards on their minds.
The sparkling devices can light up skies, but if set off improperly, they also can cause serious injury or death, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said.
“I think people don’t realize that if this thing explodes right near you or in your hand, it can injure you to the point of amputation,” Browning said. “People don’t realize how they dangerous they are. It’s an exploding projectile … It’s not designed to be handled.”
Fireworks injure about 9,000 people across the country each year — and half of those injuries are of bystanders, said Dr. Kevin Kirchner, a New Orleans neuro-ophthalmologist who has worked in emergency rooms on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. About a fifth of the 9,000 injuries are of children under the age of 10, he added, citing statistics from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Even fireworks like sparklers, which may seem relatively tame, can carry serious risks — they burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, Kirchner said.
Some of the most concerning fireworks are M80s and cherry bombs, which hold dangerously high-grade powder mixtures that could send shrapnel flying, and sky lanterns, which can float for hundreds of miles before causing a fire when they finally land, Browning said. The devices are known to cause a range of accidents.
“If you set that thing off, and it sets a fire somewhere else, you’re still responsible,” Browning said.
There have been 12 people injured by fireworks across Louisiana during this year’s fireworks season — a two-week stretch during the Fourth of July and another stretch leading up to New Year’s Day, Browning said. Thirty-three fireworks-related fires have erupted so far this year across the state.
The numbers haven’t stopped the festivities. Though fireworks are illegal for personal use in many parishes, there will be 62 licensed shows across the state on New Year’s Eve — and 750 licensed retail spots to purchase fireworks in areas where they are legal for personal use, Browning said. East Baton Rouge Parish is not one of those areas. Browning recommends getting in touch with authorities before lighting any personal fireworks.
Those who do choose to set off fireworks should keep in mind the key principles to preventing an accident: keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby; set the fireworks off from a stable base; never direct them at anything that could burn; give yourself enough time to get your distance from a firework before it ignites; and do not pick up any fireworks that have not exploded.
“At the end of the day, if an accident occurs, the person was not following the safety rules and recommendations,” Browning said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.