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Fire officials urge caution on Fourth of July

In advance of July 4, local fire officials are urging residents to take precautions when they are dealing with fireworks.

Dave Ferguson, fire marshal for the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, said that the department receives reports every year of two or three fireworks-related injuries around the Fourth of July.

The most severe of those come from the use of illegal fireworks, Ferguson said.

“We’ve had people in Shenandoah County who have lost limbs due to illegal fireworks and the use of those,” Ferguson said.

There are around 1,500 fireworks that the Virginia Department of Fire Programs has deemed permissible and safe for use on private property.

In general, Ferguson said, “approved fireworks are basically anything that does not go up in the air, travel laterally or explode.”

Gerry Maiatico, Fire Marshal for the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said that these “permitted fireworks” are safer to use than the illegal fireworks.

“While they’re not as exciting as what some people refer to as ‘the good stuff’ — rockets, mortars, firecrackers, those types of fireworks — they are much … safer,” Maiatico said.

Under state regulations, towns, cities and counties can have stricter regulations than the state code requires. The City of Alexandria, for instance, bans the use of all fireworks, including sparklers.

But Shenandoah and Warren counties do not have any of those stricter regulations.

Even when using legal fireworks, Ferguson and Maiatico urged people to be cautious.

“We’ve already been dispatched, well before the Fourth of July, to several fireworks-related injuries,” Maiatico said. “All of those were using the legal fireworks. So just because they’re legal, people think they’re not dangerous, and that’s not the case.”

Maiatico said that the department often receives reports of burns from sparklers, which burn at temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees.

Ferguson advised that people keep a bucket of water near any fireworks and that they stay 300 feet away from neighbors and 50 feet away from other structures to reduce the risk of starting a fire.

“We recommend that adults are the ones that are igniting the fireworks and that they keep a safe distance from their spectators and also that they have a bucket of water nearby,” Ferguson said.

But the safest way to watch fireworks, Maiatico said, is by going to a professional fireworks show.

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