When the pandemic prompted many cities to cancel their annual July Fourth pyrotechnics to keep crowds from gathering, people emptied the shelves of their local firework stores for socially distanced ways to have their own rockets’ red glare.
Even though the municipal shows are returning this year, demand remains strong, with industry watchers figuring that people developed a taste for their own small gatherings and a bug for making things boom.
In April 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that allows Florida residents to legally use fireworks, but only for three days each year: New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and July Fourth. But even before that, the laws were rarely enforced.
Sales of personal fireworks broke records during the pandemic. U.S. revenues went from $1 billion in 2019 to $1.9 billion in 2020, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. And even though many municipal fireworks shows returned in 2021, personal sales pushed to $2.2 billion that year. The association predicts another jump in 2022 to $2.3 billion.
“The sales just blew everyone’s socks off, and 2021 had growth even over 2020,” said Jessi Dragoiu, purchasing and project development manger for Phantom Fireworks, the nation’s largest retailer of consumer fireworks. “We just think there is something that has drawn people, that we are remembering it was a lot of fun to get together in small groups.”
Along with those sales, injuries from fireworks also spiked during the pandemic.
Eighteen people in the U.S. died in 2020 from fireworks injuries, compared with 12 people the previous year, a 50% increase, according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
About 15,600 people went to emergency rooms with fireworks injuries in 2020, a 56 percent increase from the 10,000 injured in 2019. The two leading causes of the injuries, according to the commission’s report, were firecrackers and sparklers. Of the 18 people who died in 2020, eight of them had been using drugs or alcohol, the report said.
For those looking for a big bang, consumers can buy what is called an aerial repeater. Various cardboard cylinders or tubes are wired together by a single fuse that will produce multi-shot fireworks. These bundles can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
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But most families start conservatively with sparkers and snaps, Dragoiu said, adding novelty items like fountains, spinners, sparklers and “tanks,” little cardboard tanks with wheels that move forward a few feet and shoot sparks out the back.
“There’s kind of some nostalgia there,” Dragoiu said.
- Always keep a water source nearby, and douse the spent devices to prevent a trash fire.
- Light fireworks on a hard, flat and level surface to ensure the stability of the items. If needed, bury or brace the item.
- Children should never handle fireworks.
- Do not mix fireworks with alcohol or drugs.
- Always light your fireworks in a clear, open area away from buildings, vehicles and shrubbery. A minimum clear radius of 30 feet for fountains and other ground-based items and 140 feet for any aerial product is recommended.
- Never attempt to relight, alter or fix any “dud” firework item.
Don’t be a bad neighbor, says Patricia Rossi of New Port Richey, the author of Everyday Etiquette. Here are some golden rules to live by when it comes to fireworks:
Honor a curfew. Knock off the noise by 10 p.m., and by no means later than midnight.
Blow stuff up only on the Fourth of July. This is especially important for people with skittish pets. Their owners will likely have a plan in place to be home with them or their vet may have given them some medication to calm them. Not so on the days before and after the holiday.
Clean up after yourself. Fireworks are messy, and they also can leave behind sharp bits that can injure a bare foot or puncture a tire.