Fireworks’ fires are a growing problem, official says

Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Eleven fires resulted from consumer fireworks around the Fourth of July.

Nine occurred on the holiday.

Three related arrests were made.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio says the incidents constitute an uptick in fires compared to prior Fourth of July holidays.

“We have not received any report of injuries,” said Mr. Chionchio. “But there seems to be a notable increase this year in the number of reported fires caused by fireworks.”

House Bill 53 — signed into law in mid-May — legalized ground-based and hand-held sparklers and certain other non-explosive, non-airborne novelty fireworks this year.

The bill does not legalize firecrackers, bottle rockets, aerials or any other device that explodes or shoots into the air. This was the first Fourth of July in nearly 65 years that fireworks were sold commercially in the state, said the Fire Marshal’s office.

Despite the legally available fireworks, Mr. Chionchio said only three of the fires were known to have been caused by legal “sparklers and “fountains.”

The type of fireworks in the remaining incidents were indeterminate. Two of the arrests were connected to an incident in Bear that involved “igniting combustibles inside a trash dumpster” with fountain-style fireworks, said Mr. Chionchio.

The other arrest was related to someone throwing an M-80 (a powerful firecracker) into a Walgreens in New Castle.

Despite the fires and arrests, the Fire Marshal’s office estimates the total damage from the combined incidents at around $5,000.

According to data from the fire marshal’s office, over the last three years (prior to July 4) there had been 19 recorded incidents of fire or damage caused by fireworks. However, no injuries were reported during the same time period.

New law wins broad support

While HB 53 received fairly broad support in the General Assembly, the notable exception came from the state fire marshal’s office. Mr. Chionchio said the department feels the new law puts residents unnecessarily at risk.

“Sparklers and other items are dangerous to some of our most vulnerable populations such as children,” he said in late June. “We believe that keeping them illegal and out of the hands of kids has helped us maintain a proven safety record here in Delaware.”

The rationale behind the new law was that legislators felt it was unnecessary to continue to criminalize residents who were already harmlessly using non explosive fireworks.

One of the bills sponsors, Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, wanted to see local retailers capitalize off the firework purchases residents planned to make anyway.

“Why shouldn’t some of the Delaware merchants get the benefit from the sales instead of them being bought right over the state lines in Pennsylvania or Maryland,” Sen. Lawson said in late June. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. These types of fireworks are the least dangerous of all of them. I don’t think getting arrested for lighting off some sparklers is warranted.”
Currently, the sale of fireworks is prohibited again until December. Vendors are only be able to sell fireworks 30 days prior to (and
including) July 4th and December 31st and consumers are only allowed to use them on the days themselves. The law also stipulates that fireworks can only be sold to people 18 or older.

In June, Sen. Lawson noted that we was reassured by the state’s low incidence of firework-related injuries and the ability to repeal the law if it causes serious conflicts.

“Despite people already using these types of fireworks, we haven’t seen any injuries,” he said. “Also, there is a three year ‘look back’ in the bill so we can see if any issues arise from it. If it’s a problem, it can be shut down.”

With one year of data in the bank, it remains unclear what the fate of the new legislation will ultimately be.

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