With bigger, longer-lasting fireworks on the market this New Year’s, local fire officials are issuing safety warnings to head off house and brush fires that may occur with careless use of the pyrotechnics.
New Year’s fireworks have been responsible for some notable fires in the Pine Belt. Last New Year’s Day, a Lamar County fireworks stand burned down due to people using fireworks near the building.
“It’s not smart at all to shoot fireworks off around a fireworks stand,” said George Stevens, Lamar County fire coordinator. “There’s actually a state statute that prohibits it.”
2010 Mississippi Code §45-13-9 states it is unlawful to ignite or discharge fireworks of any type within 75 feet of where fireworks are stored or offered for sale.
Stevens remembers another freak fire that occurred on New Year’s Eve in 2003 at a home in the Canebrake subdivision.
“A bottle rocket was shot into the house and set the Christmas tree on fire,” he remembered. “That set the house on fire.”
The bottle rocket flew through an open front door and ignited a couple’s tree. They had been setting off bottle rockets in the front yard of their home on Tidewater Road. The canister they were using to hold the items tipped over and one bottle rocket landed under their tree sending it up in flames, which soon spread to the walls and ceiling of their living room. By the time the husband backed his wife’s car out of the garage and called 911, the entire house was ablaze.
Stevens is worried about more house fires as people ring in the New Year with fireworks.
“Bottle rockets might be shot on the roof of a house where there’s pine straw or into a house,” he said.
Lamar County had a ban on fireworks and outdoor burning until Nov. 30. The ban, like dozens of others around the state, had been put in place after weeks of dry weather. Forrest County lifted its ban Nov. 17.
Stevens urges people not to use fireworks around flammable material like old wood or dry grasses. He said it pays to be careful indoors, as well.
“Stay away from anything flammable,” he said. “Don’t put them near a fireplace or on the kitchen counter or around anybody who smokes. Pretty obvious stuff.”
Stevens also advises adults to stay away from alcohol while using fireworks and to supervise children who are playing with them.
“Fireworks can be fun, but you’ve just got to use them responsibly,” he said. “I don’t want to tell anybody not to use fireworks, but they’ve got to use them safely and sensibly.”
Fireworks are once again big business this year with newer, bigger, longer-lasting styles flying off the shelves at local stands.
Alien Uprising is one of the newest offerings at Pine Belt Fireworks on Old Highway 11. It is comprised of a 30-shot, 500-gram cake filled with glitter and pearls in a variety of colors.
Tank Girl, introduced last year, is another popular 500-gram cake that offers a lot of boom for the buck with 46 shots that last more than a minute.
“At least you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth,” stand owner David Thomas said.
Other larger fireworks popular this year are the Bayou Boogie and Ameriblast, both 25-shot cakes, he said.
The fireworks stand on Evelyn Gandy Parkway near Lake Serene Grocery has two new varieties to offer this year.
The stand’s newest firework is a 180-shot color cannon that outshines a Roman candle, which typically has only 10 shots.
Then there’s the Paratrooper, a parachute-like style similar to a Festival Ball, shooting a trail of firecrackers when the parachute launches.
“It’s really neat,” said Kalee Keisman, who helps her father run the stand. “We’ve never had that before.”
The multi-shooters that run between 16 and 30 shots are popular, as well as fireworks for children like sparklers and poppers, Keisman said.
For those unsure of what to buy or who want to know how a new firework acts, Pine Belt Fireworks offers customers the opportunity to see on video how certain firework varieties perform.
“All I have to do is scan the bar code and it will show a video preview of it,” Thomas said. “We feel like it’s a benefit (to the customer).”
The Pine Belt Fireworks stands in Oak Grove and Purvis are lined with lower-cost fireworks on one end with maximum 500-gram models on the other, so customers know where to find products in their price range.
“We try to keep prices reasonable,” Thomas said. “We try to make it economical for people.”
Bottle rockets and bang snaps are what Xadrien Watson, 16, wanted. He stopped by the Pine Belt stand to replenish his stock.
“I like them, and dynamite sticks, smoke bombs and the stuff that’s big,” he said.
Jerra Allen, 33, of Hattiesburg and her family also go for the more low-key traditional fireworks.
“My husband loves bottle rockets, and I love bang snaps and sparklers,” she said. “(They) aren’t fireworks you shoot in the air, but I’ve seen way too many fireworks accidents to do anything more than this.”
The fireworks business has been good so far this year, Keisman said.
“We’ve been very busy, so it’s been good,” Keisman said. “We were really busy the day before Christmas, and it will probably pick up again toward the (New Year) weekend.”
Thomas agrees. With New Year’s Eve falling on a weekend night “it’s a money maker,” he said.
It’s illegal to sell, buy or use fireworks within city limits, and Chip Brown, Forrest County fire coordinator, hopes residents will follow the law. He expects there may not be much firecracker use this New Year’s.
“We’ve got an 80 percent chance of rain on New Year’s Eve, so it will put a damper on the fireworks and bonfires and such,” he said.
But Brown said even with wet weather, there’s a chance for brush and house fires.
“Even though we’ve had some rain lately, we’ve had some brush fires started from fireworks over the Christmas holiday,” he said. “People need to be careful about where those fireworks are shot off and where they land.”
Brown advises county residents to follow manufacturer’s instructions and not to shoot fireworks toward someone, a house or dry brush. He also says to extinguish any bonfires completely before heading to bed.
He said there have been several fireworks-related house fires in Forrest County over the years.
“We had one where a firework landed on the roof top and caught the house on fire,” Brown said. “Another, a neighbor across the street shot a firework onto a wooden porch and that set the house on fire. It’s definitely happened.”
Brown is hoping the rainfall will make things safer this New Year’s Eve.
“But if it doesn’t come, people have to be careful,” he said.
2010 Mississippi Code
Public safety and good order: § 45-13-9
“No fireworks shall be sold or offered for sale at retail before the fifteenth day of June and after the fifth day of July and before the fifth day of December and after the second day of January of each year. No fireworks shall be sold to any person under the age of 12 years. It shall be unlawful to ignite or discharge fireworks of any type within 600 feet of any church, hospital or school, or within 75 feet of where fireworks are stored or offered for sale. It shall also be unlawful to ignite or discharge the same within or throw the same from or into or at any motor vehicle.”
Safety tips for using fireworks
- Obey all local laws.
- Read cautionary labels.
- Keep away from flammable objects.
- Responsible adults should supervise activities.
- Don’t drink alcohol while using fireworks.
- Light one firework at a time, then quickly move away.
- Never relight a “dud.”
- Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
Source: National Council on Fireworks Safety