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As locals purchase fireworks, authorities urge caution

By Joel Hall and Curt Yeomans

jhall@news-daily.com

L.D. Newson, a native of Memphis, Tenn., always takes advantage of the fireworks tents that spring up whenever he is in Georgia for the Fourth of July. Fireworks are a holiday tradition, because his 9-year-old son "enjoys the visual," he said.

"I go to these a lot," said Newson. "It's convenient. When I see a tent, I'm like, 'ooh fireworks, let's go.' If you go to a fireworks tent instead of a store, you don't have to worry about people standing in line for other things."

Under Georgia law, most fireworks, with the exception of certain types of sparklers, are illegal. Fireworks tents, which pop up in local parking lots close to Independence Day, serve as an oasis for state-approved fireworks.

Kim Hudson, a teacher at Church Street Elementary School, and a tent operator for Phantom Fireworks, said traditional sparklers and fountain-style fireworks - that can shoot multi-colored sparks as high as 12-feet in the air - are the most popular sellers.

At her location at the corner of Highway 54 and Forest Parkway in Forest Park, Hudson is selling a variety of fireworks, most of which are fountain types. The fountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from small balls that are designed to look like frogs' heads, to a beer-mug-shaped fountain, to large hearts and stars.

"They say the bigger the fountain, the bigger the effect," said Hudson. She said the company places safety guidelines, "such as stand away from lit fireworks," on the plastic bags the fireworks are placed in.

While sparklers, and other state-approved fireworks, can be fun to watch, local authorities are warning residents, especially parents, to use extreme caution if they choose to light their own fireworks. Landry Merkison, battalion chief of the Clayton County Fire Department, said that due to dry conditions this year, the risk of fires is much higher.

"What's really going to make a big difference this year is that we haven't had rain for so long and everything is extremely dry," he said. "Basically, nothing that is considered aerial is considered legal in the state. Even your standard firecracker is illegal. Those who use illegal fireworks run a much greater risk of fire."

Merkison said bottle rockets, Roman candles, and other aerial fireworks emit sparks that can easily set fire to dry grass, brush, and wooden privacy fences. He recommends that people only buy state-approved fireworks and use them with caution.

"[State retailers] only sell what the General Assembly approves to be sold," Merkison said. "If you have to go out of the state to buy your fireworks ... they're probably illegal. Even the ones that are legal in the state are still dangerous. Unsupervised, it can turn a nice, festive occasion into a really horrific accident."

Sabrina Puckett, captain at the Henry County Fire Department, recommended that people visit professional fireworks displays rather than conduct their own. Today in Henry, fireworks displays will take place at Nash Farm Park in Hampton at 9:30 p.m., and Community Bible Church in Stockbridge at 9:15 p.m.

"Severe burns, fractures, scaring, disfigurement, and even death have ended celebrations for many amateurs," Puckett said in a statement released by the Henry County Fire Department. "Henry County Fire Department would like to encourage citizens to attend public displays conducted by trained professional pyrotechnicians rather than risk injury."

Arisha Dancey, a zone manager for eight metro-area Phantom Fireworks tents, said that despite general caution, business is booming in the Southern Crescent. She believes if used safely and properly, fireworks can add fun to the holiday.

"A lot of people come looking for the ones we can't sell, but they'll come back and purchase a lot," Dancey said. "If they follow the cautions we have on our bags, and if they use the proper precaution, they can be a lot of fun. It is part of the American tradition. I don't see anything wrong with them, if they are used properly."

Safety tips:

· All fireworks displays should be used on a flat, level surface, such as a parking lot or driveway.

· Stand at least 10-feet back from any fountain-type fireworks display after lighting it.

· Make sure the firework is completely out before moving it. It's also advised to let them cool for a while and keep a water hose handy.

· All fireworks should be used under the direct supervision of an adult.

· Fireworks should be kept away, at all times, from small children.