73~2325~1000101~ Fireworks misuse: "You can't fix stupid" - News - MailTribune.com - Medford, OR
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  • Fireworks misuse: "You can't fix stupid"

    Police and fire officials are trying to make clear the dangers of fireworks misuse, but, as one vendor says: 'You can't fix stupid'
  • Patriotism and stupidity abound this time of year.
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  • Patriotism and stupidity abound this time of year.
    Folks hang flags, attend parades, spread picnic blankets, light up barbecues — and hand sparklers, which run about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, to their children.
    Last year, sparklers accounted for more than 40 percent of all known firework-related injures in the nation, according to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report released in June.
    "Sparklers are pretty tame, but they are being given to children and can be 1,800 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit," said Medford Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg. "Kids can grab the wrong part and burn themselves or light their brother or sister's clothes on fire."
    According to the CPSC report, eight people were killed and 11,400 injured by fireworks in 2013. That's up from six deaths and 8,700 injuries the year before. The numbers are based on people treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.
    Over the years, local law enforcement and fire officials have seen first-hand the results of drinking alcohol while playing with fireworks, using illegal fireworks, allowing children to use fireworks unsupervised, modifying fireworks and just being plain irresponsible with fireworks.
    About four or five years ago, a stray bottle rocket lit a girl's clothes on fire, burning her, Kleinberg recalled.
    A few years before that, a child mixed the components of fireworks together in his bedroom. There was a chemical reaction and the house caught on fire, Kleinberg said.
    More recently, a man, David Jenkins, lost two fingers after a mortar exploded in his hand.
    "It was the typical dud situation where (Jenkins) lights it and nothing happens so later he goes up to see if there's some fuse left, lights it again and goes to throw it when it goes off in his hand," said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.
    Last year, Medford Police Department cited nearly 40 people for having illegal fireworks, which is anything that explodes, flies in the air or travels more than 6 feet horizontally or 12 inches vertically. That includes explosives such as M80s, cherry bombs and M100s, as well as firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, missile rockets and aerial spinners.
    "If someone has more than $50 of illegal fireworks, the fire department can impose a civil penalty of $500 and seize the fireworks," Budreau said. "The intent of that is to discourage people from having large quantities possibly for retail."
    Kleinberg said Medford Fire-Rescue inspected all local tent vendors for illegal fireworks and found no violations.
    Many people get these fireworks from friends living in a state with looser firework laws, said Medford Police Chief Tim George.
    Officials have an added worry this year, with an extended dry period creating perfect conditions for a fireworks-sparked blaze.
    Today, four Medford police officers will be on duty responding to just firework-related calls, including all the small, personal aerial displays, Budreau said.
    Oregon's legal fireworks also can be dangerous when not used as intended.
    "One thing people do is they hold a ground bloom in their hand and then light it and throw it," Kleinberg said. "That's a misuse of fireworks and against the law."
    Some people also combine the black powder found in legal fireworks in a soda can or other pressurized container to create handmade explosives.
    "It's a felony to modify fireworks," Budreau said.
    Tyler Rogers was shopping for safe "little fireworks" for his daughter Thursday afternoon at the Discount Fireworks Superstore on West Main Street.
    Rogers said he once tried making his own fireworks out of other fireworks. When the device went off, it was so loud that his ears rang long afterward.
    On another occasion, an M80 went off in his hand, leaving it black and blue for weeks.
    "My daughter," he said. "She doesn't get to light fireworks."
    Dwight Stockton, who has run the Discount Fireworks Superstore for the last 14 years, said he IDs kids who look younger than 16. If they can't produce an ID, he tells them to go home and come back with an adult.
    Stockton says all his fireworks are "safe and sane."
    "But you can't fix stupid," he said.
    Autumn Reyes also was shopping the Superstore on Thursday with her family. Last year, she said, her neighbor lit a Roman candle that exploded out the bottom rather than the top, causing third-degree burns on her hand.
    This year, her cousin Sarah Akers had picked up a tip off Facebook and purchased plastic red cups. They poked holes in the cups for the sparklers so their kids' hands would be shielded from the falling embers.
    "My hope is everyone has fun but also are wise and stay safe so we don't have any devastating fires or injuries this year," Kleinberg said.
    Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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