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Fire Marshall warns fireworks can be dangerous

July 02, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

* List of fireworks displays

Fire marshals in Maryland are bracing for the Fourth of July holiday, hoping for a safe celebration not marred by fireworks accidents.

Maryland has one of the nation's toughest fireworks laws, according to Hagerstown Fire Marshal John Hersh.

All but a few fireworks are illegal to buy, sell, possess or use.

The only exceptions are: toy gun caps, party poppers, snakes, paper-wrapped snappers and sparklers in a container marked, "no chlorates or perchlorates," Hersh said. They are legal only when used as directed on the box, he said.

Even so, sparklers can reach temperatures of between 1,200 and 1,800 degrees. By comparison, the flame from a typical cigarette lighter burns at about 900 degrees.

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Possession of illegal fireworks carries a fine of up to $250 per piece and selling them can bring a $1,000 fine per piece, Hersh said.

Fireworks that are illegal in Maryland can be purchased in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. When people bring them into Maryland, they are breaking the law, Hersh said.

Nationwide, the number of people hurt in fireworks accidents declined by one-third in 1996, following a 10 percent drop in 1995, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Two years ago in Hagerstown, a 7-year-old boy was hurt on Lanvale Street when someone threw a firecracker at him.

Last year, a house in the West End was heavily damaged on July 4 when children threw legal sparklers onto a porch and caused an $80,000 fire, Hersh said.

Even legal fireworks can be unsafe because of improper use or malfunction. Many of the products are made in foreign countries that have lower manufacturing standards than the United States, fire officials said.

To show how deadly fireworks can be, the Maryland Fire Marshal's bomb squad held several public demonstrations around the state in June.

Eye and hand injuries are the most common.

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