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Injuries, fires are sad scourges of 4th festivities

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on June 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
June 30, 2011 5:01 pm

Charlene Peyton stands by her burned house in the Gig Harbor area. Errant fireworks ignited it while she was away last July 4. (Peter Haley / Staff photographer)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

You don’t need a calendar to know that the Fourth of July is soon upon us.

Fireworks stands have popped up like weeds all over the South Sound, and some customers are indulging in premature “celebration” – even though it’s illegal altogether in some cities and restricted in most others as to which kind of fireworks can be shot off and when.

For some folks, the Fourth – and several days before and after – is an opportunity to indulge their inner pyromaniac under the guise of being patriotic Americans. They gleefully plop down a wad of cash at fireworks stands for goods that can blow off a finger or two, put out an eye or set the neighbor’s roof on fire.

For the rest of us, though, the Fourth often means disturbed nights, frazzled nerves, fear of accidental fire, and pets that might need to be medicated and restrained so they don’t run away  in fright. Some people dare not leave town if the weather is dry, but instead stand ready with hoses in case the neighbor’s fireworks display gets out of hand.

According to the state fire marshal, there were 575 fires, injuries and other fireworks-related incidents last year in this state. That included the Gig Harbor-area home of retired music teacher Charlene Peyton. It was a total loss, thanks to her neighbors’ illegal July 4 fireworks.

Fifty children under the age of 14 were among the injured. Nationally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports, about 8,600 Americans went to hospital emergency rooms last year due to injuries from legal and illegal fireworks; 40 percent of them were children 14 and younger. Three people died.

Even supposedly “safe and sane” fireworks like sparklers can be dangerous. They burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees, says the CPSC – hot enough to melt some metals, let alone a young child’s flesh.

Unfortunately, this year’s July 4 likely will result in its share of casualties. In a press release, the American Pyrotechnics Association crows that “backyard fireworks have never been more popular or in more demand.” It points with pride to the fact that “Since 2000, there has been an ongoing proliferation of state and local legislation to relax consumer fireworks laws and life fireworks prohibitions.”

One reason it cites is “the sluggish economy during the past several years and the need for local and state governments to creatively find ways to increase revenues.”

We haven’t heard of any local governments in Washington trying to raise revenue by relaxing restrictions on fireworks – thus risking the safety of their citizens. And we hope we never do. In fact, this year Steilacoom is joining the cities of Tacoma, Ruston, Fircrest, Lacey, Federal Way and Des Moines in banning personal fireworks. Those cities are to be applauded.

Have a happy – and safe – Fourth of July. And please leave the fireworks displays to the experts.

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