TAMPA — For many, sparklers are a Fourth of July tradition. We light them up and use the bright, crackling wands to write our names in the night sky.
It seems innocent, right?
Wrong. Sparklers, like any fireworks, can be dangerous.
Sparklers burn at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees. That's hot enough to melt some metals. And even though sparklers are usually held by hand, no firework can really be used that way safely, said Milton Jenkins, interim fire marshal for Tampa Fire Rescue.
"Even those little embers can burn you or catch your clothes on fire," Jenkins said.
Each year, thousands of people across the country end their holiday celebrations in the emergency room. In 2011, an estimated 9,600 people were injured by fireworks, and four people died in fireworks-related accidents throughout the year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The best way to keep everyone safe is to keep fireworks away from children, said St. Petersburg Fire Lt. Joel Granata.
"The most common mistake people make is to allow underage kids to shoot fireworks off without supervision," he said.
Most often, injuries are minor burns to the hands. Injuries to the eyes can occur when bending over fireworks as they are lit.
But it's not just people who are at risk. Straying bottle rockets have caused house fires, Jenkins said.
Trees have also been known to burn when fireworks are shot upward, Granata said.
Even with all the rain that Tropical Storm Debby bestowed, it's still better to play it safe.
"Things dry out pretty quick with a few days of sunshine," Granata said.
Tampa Fire Rescue offers the following safety tips: Never try to relight a firework. Don't point or throw fireworks at another person. Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of emergencies. And always make sure fireworks are legal before buying or using them.
That last one can be tricky.
In Florida, it's illegal to buy, sell or explode consumer fireworks — even on your own property. Many retailers get around that by having buyers sign paperwork saying they will use the explosives to scare off birds from a farm or fish hatchery.
Though buyers could still be charged, most Tampa Bay counties don't crack down. Still, officials say to stick with sparklers.
"We say, 'If it goes up and blows up, it's illegal,' " Granata said.
Another alternative? Leave it to the professionals and head out to watch one of the area's fireworks displays.
Just don't forget about the pets left at home.
Noises from fireworks can scare animals. Hillsborough County Animal Services recommends bringing pets indoors by late afternoon and into the night. And keep identification tags on them in case they do run away.
Lastly, remember that guns should never be fired into the sky in celebration, Granata said.
"Lots of people shoot guns off and the bullet has to come down," Granata said. "It's totally illegal. And it's definitely not a good idea."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.
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