Officials stress safety if using fireworks July 4

Jul. 1—Fire extinguishers, sobriety and common sense are recommended ingredients in planning hands-on fireworks fun, according to a variety of authorities on the topic, from vendors to a licensed pyrotechnician known for launching tons of projectiles every year, particularly around Independence Day.

The combination of dry conditions and the hot remnants of fireworks can cause major headaches, as some local authorities confirmed this week.

"Soak that stuff in water. That's the biggest thing," said Chad Hyler, a longtime Belvedere fireman who also became Salley's police chief this year. "Even though you think that the firework may be out and no longer is going to go off, it's always the best ... practice to soak the firework in a bucket of water instead of throwing them in a trash can."

Fireworks sales have been normal through the past couple of years, despite fear and regulations linked to COVID-19, according to Skip Playford, manager of the Wacky Wayne's Fireworks store in North Augusta.

"That's one of the strange things," he said. "We stayed busy throughout all of the COVID mess. People were coming out, because by July 2020, people had already been stuck in their homes for some months, and they were ready to get out, and when they did, they just came out in droves. They were coming out of the woodwork, so it didn't affect us at all, except it made our business go up."

Sales remained strong despite inflation. "We have been busy since Memorial Day," said Playford, whose base of operations is near the Georgia line, at I-20 Exit 1 — the first option for customers coming from Georgia.

Playford offered some safety tips. "Don't modify the fireworks. Keep water or something handy, in case you set something on fire. You want to have something around to put fires out."

He also emphasized Hyler's point about soaking used fireworks. "Sometimes they actually will reignite and catch fire ... and you've got a trash fire, so that's not something new, but something people should keep in mind. Don't shoot stuff in the midst of trees and things like that," he said.

Among the South's primary authorities on the topic is Craig Butler, of Thomson, Georgia. Butler, who helps orchestrate shows as a contractor with Pyro Shows East Coast, helps light up the sky at such locales as Aiken, downtown Augusta, Fort Gordon, SRP Park, Evans, Georgia ("Thunder Over Evans") and The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, in Greensboro, Georgia.

He offered several tips for fireworks users. "Don't drink. That's No. 1. Read the directions. That's No. 2. Have a fire extinguisher available, or water. That's No. 3. Be careful," he said.

Butler, a licensed pyrotechnician, has been in the business since 1986. "I have all my fingers and my nose is right where it's supposed to be," he noted, pointing out that his state license is No. 7.

"You've got to consider this stuff dangerous, even though you're buying it from ... Crazy Craig's in McCormick," he said, citing the example of one of his establishments.

Playford made similar comments. "Be aware of where your fireworks are going — you know, your neighbor's house. You don't want to burn down their barn. You don't want to burn down your mother-in-law's cottage in the backyard. Read instructions. Most of that's pretty normal and standard," he added.

"Another one is, don't stand over a firework when you light it ... In other words, stand to the side of it. Don't stand over it. That thing might fire off in your face. That would be a bad day. They don't recommend children lighting fireworks," he said, while acknowledging some relatively kid-friendly options, such as sparklers.

Local regulations largely pertain to noise. Sgt. Daniel Smith, with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, said a local ordinance is meant to squelch excessive noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

A report from the Aiken Department of Public Safety from this week indicated, "Our ordinance prohibits any person to use, fire, shoot or discharge fireworks within the city. The only exception is for 'sparklers' and 'Chinese firecrackers' defined as 'Being not over one-quarter inch in outside diameter, not over two inches long and containing not over four grains of explosive composition.'"

Excessive noise is a major concern for animal shelters. "We see a lot of pets freak out and get lost from their owners and wind up at the shelter," said Bobby Arthurs, manager of the Aiken County Animal Shelter.

He encouraged people to "be prepared to have a plan for their pets ... and livestock," with regard to fireworks. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to animals offers a list of suggestions for the occasion, ranging from medication to simply keeping pets indoors during noisy outdoor celebrations.

"If you have neighbors that have a lot of animals, don't shoot in the neighborhood," Arthurs said, suggesting a principle of "just looking out for one another." He also recommended ensuring that pets have proper identification, so that a pet on the loose can be brought home as quickly and efficiently as possible, rather than making an unnecessary trip to a shelter. The county facility, he said, has been completely full in recent days.

Human casualties often involve hand injuries or "alcohol plus fireworks," in the assessment of Dr. Jedidiah Ballard, an emergency room physician at Augusta University. "Males are at least three times more likely than females to get hurt," he added.

Attempts to throw fireworks often do not end well, and "artillery shells" (with projectiles popping upward from a tube) are meant to be placed on steady ground rather than held by hand or balanced on a hip, he added.