Fireworks stands offer less bang for your buck

There's lots of sparklers - but no exploding stuff

July 03, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Area fireflies - you're about to be so shown up.

For sale under highway tents across the region are mini pyros, electric eggs, fun snaps and rainbow fountains. There are also colored snakes, glow worms, killer bees, the party keg, and the night club. And, if you think you can handle it, the Full Bore.

For $39.99, the Full Bore promises to light up your night with "over two minutes of ... colors, crackles, glitter, sprays and whistles."

Sparklers on a stick? Only if you're old-school.

Since Maryland amended its fire code two years ago to allow ground-based sparklers like these creatively named varieties, roadside tents have appeared to oblige people who want a little snap, crackle and pop for their Fourth of July.

Of course, many pre-revelers who stop by the yellow-and-white striped tent along Pulaski Highway near Rosedale want what they still can't have, what can only be found in nearby states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia: the serious stuff.

"Everybody comes here and wants the better stuff, the stuff that's not legal," laments Leroy Emel, a tent employee. He and his brother, George, drive from Lancaster, Pa., each day for the tent's weeklong seasonal stint, which ends tomorrow.

Instead, adds George Emel, people settle for "something that puts off light and everybody goes, `Whoooooooo! That's exciting!'"

Randy Hein of Rosedale ventured tentatively into the tent yesterday with his 7-year-old grandson, Chase Fuller. Hein wanted something to sparkle in the back yard after a cookout, but not badly enough to buy contraband.

Relieved to find the tent was legit, Hein began sifting through the selection for something that would impress Chase - who demanded something "like the finale" of a full-fledged fireworks display.

"Ooh - I know what I'm gonna do," Chase told his grandfather as they chose a few toy soldiers and a handful of mini pyros. "I'm gonna stick a skinny firework in a bottle and watch it fly."

"Um, I don't know, buddy," Hein said. "You're not sticking anything in a bottle."

Although the tents advertise fireworks, what they're selling are handheld and ground-based sparklers, as well as noisemakers such as snaps, which pop when flung to the ground. In essence, although these things come in all shapes, sizes and costs, they're sparklers that sit on the ground and emit a shower of sparks. They do not explode, and nothing shoots out of them.

Despite the state law change, three jurisdictions continue to ban all fireworks: Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Fire officials would rather people take in fireworks at a professional municipal display. However, if they insist on backyard pyrotechnics, officials urge them to use common sense: Don't light them indoors, near dry grass or while wearing loose clothing. And keep a careful eye on the kids.

Shawn Reed, 35, was disappointed to find no "real" fireworks for sale at the tent. As the host of a family reunion with 200 people coming in from all over the East Coast, he didn't want to disappoint them with puny sparklers.

"I'm gonna have to drive all the way to Pennsylvania or Virginia," he said. Such fireworks are still illegal here, even if they're bought somewhere else.

Michael Hipchen, 20, of Bel Air didn't mind the tent's restrained selection. He'll expend the "little cheap stuff" as a warm-up, then cross the border.

"For the Fourth," he said, "We're gonna get the real deal."

Sun staff writer Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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