Beware the big sparkler

July 03, 2002

IT'S NOT YET the Fourth of July and sparks are flying. But not in a good way.

Teen-agers trying out a new kind of jumbo sparkler legally available for the first time in Maryland aren't taking the time to read the instructions. And the consequences have been significant: An Abingdon house was set ablaze and destroyed, a front porch in Hagerstown burned, a barn in Cecil County caught fire.

Kids are lighting the sparklers while riding in cars and then tossing them out the windows. But these big sparklers are ground-based fireworks, which means you're not supposed to hold them -- or throw them.

Surprisingly, only one young man in Chestertown has been injured. He, too, was riding in a car. Only the tossed sparkler never made it out the window -- it landed in his lap. His injuries were severe enough that he was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Burn Center. At least eight car fires have been blamed on these big boys -- the sparklers, that is.

This is the first Fourth of July season that the sale of these bigger, ground-based sparklers has been legal in Maryland. (All fireworks sales are prohibited in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties; Ocean City and Bel Air have banned the new sparklers.)

The sparklers -- some costing as much as $50 and sold under the names Screaming Tiger, TNT 2000, Whistling Dixie and Lucky Leprechaun -- can be found at roadside stands, convenience stores, even big-box retailers.

But don't make the mistake of simply reaching for a match once you get them home. To safely enjoy the shower of light, the state fire marshal's office offers a few dos and don'ts:

Set up the sparkler on a level, flat surface clear of any paper, wood, cloth or other combustible material. (Note: The sparkler in the house fire set a patch of brush ablaze initially.)

Keep a bucket of water or garden hose nearby. Wear safety glasses.

Keep them away from children.

Backyard sparklers are as much a part of the Fourth of July as Uncle Roger's homemade barbecue sauce and three-legged races at the family picnic. The new bigger versions can add to the ambience, but only when used properly.

For those who like a bigger bang, the state fire marshal's office has issued permits for at least 100 fireworks displays this week. As Deputy Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor put it: "There is ample opportunity for persons to enjoy a public fireworks display ... and they're free."

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