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November 23, 2014

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Best advice for a safe Fourth of July: Use common sense

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Leila Navidi

Softball player Anysa Calderon, 16, restocks the shelves at a Phantom Fireworks stand operated by the Las Vegas Bulldogs 18-and-under fast pitch softball team on the corner of Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road in Henderson on Monday, July 2, 2012.

It’s almost time to break out the apple pie, fire up the grill and celebrate the United States’ 237th birthday. And what would a Fourth of July party be without a fireworks display?

Legal fireworks are on sale now in Clark County and officials have issued a list of reminders to keep the festivities safe — for people, structures and wildlife. With temperatures expected to soar past 110 degrees leading up to July 4, fire officials said it’s especially important people heed their advice, given conditions ripe for fires.

“A lot of it is just common sense,” said Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman. “We’re not trying to stop anybody from having any fun. We just want everybody to be safe.”

Here’s what you need to know before heading out to view a fireworks display or purchase your own:

    • What’s legal

      About 300 booths, including 117 in Las Vegas, are open to sell legal fireworks until 11:59 p.m. July 4. Possessing and using the legal fireworks is only permitted during that time frame, as well.

      The booths, operated by nonprofit groups that obtained permits and received training, will sell Safe-N-Sane fireworks, meaning those approved for sale by a committee of fire prevention personnel. All Safe-N-Sane fireworks contain a white logo.

      Legal fireworks are stationary, Szymanski said. Many of them emit “showers of sparks.”

      “We’ve had serious fires and people injured using Safe-N-Sane fireworks, so you have to treat them like any other firework,” Szymanski said.

    • What’s illegal

      Fireworks that go through the air uncontrollably, twirl on the ground or explode are illegal in Southern Nevada because they’re considered dangerous.

      “The problem with this is you have no control,” Szymanski said. “You don’t know where it will come down. They could potentially hurt somebody, so they’re banned.”

      Possessing or using illegal fireworks is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, Szymanski said.

      If illegal fireworks injure a person or damage someone’s property, the users will be liable, which could mean steep expenses, officials said. Insurance companies have investigators who will seek to hold users responsible.

      “They’re going to come find you, and they’re going to make you pay for it,” Szymanski said.

      It’s also illegal to blast off any kind of firework from public property, including streets, sidewalks, parks and schools.

      Stricter penalties exist for fireworks illegally shot from federal property, such as Lake Mead and Red Rock, because of the elevated risk for wildfires.

    • Safety tips

      Fire officials said fireworks should be used on a flat surface, preferably a driveway, and far away from combustible items, such as vehicles or grass. Keep a garden hose handy in case a spark goes astray.

      Firework remnants should be picked up with a shovel and discarded in a bucket of water to avoid any becoming reignited, Szymanski said.

      “They’ll get real mushy after about a half-hour” in water, he said.

      Fire departments typically respond to multiple garage fires between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. near the Fourth of July holiday, when people throw away fireworks in garbage cans without soaking them in water first, Szymanski said. The still-hot fireworks eventually set the garbage cans ablaze, leading to garage and house fires.

      Fire officials also advise parents to not let children light fireworks or be around them without supervision.

      “We teach (children) all their life not to touch matches or lighters, and this week is not the exception to the rule,” Szymanski said. “It should be done by a responsible adult.”

      Las Vegas firefighters on Wednesday demonstrated the potential negative consequences of using illegal fireworks: A cantaloupe, slightly larger than a human fist, and a watermelon packed with illegal blasting caps exploded without hesitation when lit, scattering fruit shards and juice across the parking lot where the demonstration took place.

      Fire officials warn the same outcome could happen to human hands if people use illegal fireworks or are irresponsible lighting legal ones.

    • Reporting problems

      If a small fire erupts while using fireworks, use a bucket of water or garden hose to douse the flames, but if the fire grows or gets out of control, quickly evacuate all people and pets from the area and call 911.

      Do not call 911 to report people using illegal fireworks, officials said. Only emergencies such as fires or injuries should be reported by calling 911.

      The Fourth of July and the hours immediately after are typically the busiest time for fire departments, Szymanski said. Last year, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue did not receive any serious fireworks-related fire calls because of rain showers that covered the valley most of the holiday.

      In 2011, Las Vegas firefighters received reports of a building fire at 11:37 p.m. on July 4. A firework had set a palm tree ablaze, and the fire extended to a car garage, Szymanski said.

      Szymanski said the number of fire calls on the Fourth of July has been dropping since the mid-1990s, when “every single engine would be on a call.” He credits the decrease to more education about the potential risk, especially with regards to being held liable for damaging someone else’s property.

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