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If fireworks are in your plans this Fourth of July, be sure to keep safety tips in mind

WILLMAR -- Fireworks are a traditional part of the Fourth of July for many people, but safety officials urge people to remember that fireworks can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and some are illegal.

Some attention to basic safety precautions can prevent problems and increase enjoyment for families that choose to purchase real fireworks.

Fireworks that fly or explode are illegal in Minnesota, but things like sparklers are allowed.

"We just recommend having a pail of water nearby, so they can make sure they are completely out," said Willmar Deputy Fire Chief Howard Carlson.

Carlson also recommended having a garden hose at the ready, staying away from combustible materials and having a cell phone handy in case a call to 911 is needed.

"When you're using the legal ones, you should keep the little ones (children) away," he said.

While Carlson said he doesn't recall a major fire caused by fireworks in the Willmar area, such fires do cause a lot of damage each year. From 2001 to 2010, Minnesotans lost $4.7 million in property damage attributed to fireworks, he said.

According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, fireworks caused about 15,500 fires and eight civilian deaths in the United States in 2010, along with $36 million in property damage. More fires are reported on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year, and fireworks account for about half of them.

In general, safety officials would prefer that people avoid most fireworks, Carlson said. Even legal fireworks have risks.

"Children are the primary victims of fireworks burns and injuries, but caution and supervision can prevent most problems," said State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl in a news release.

"Consider this," he said. "We bake a cake at 350 degrees and won't let our children near the oven. But a sparkler burning at 1200 degrees -- we hand that to a barefoot child and tell her to write her name in the sky. Let's take some precautions instead, and keep our kids and property safe this year."

If the Minnesota Medical Association had its way, no personal fireworks would be sold. "Too many youth suffer eye and hand injuries due to fireworks each summer," MMA President Lyle Swenson, M.D., said in a news release. "Similar to the American Academy of Pediatrics, we feel the best way to celebrate Independence Day is to leave the fireworks up to professionals."

Safety tips

For people who do use personal fireworks, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety offers a list of safety tips:

-n Make sure children using fireworks are supervised by sober, attentive adults.

- Choose a safe place to use legal fireworks, far from combustible materials or surfaces that could be damaged or catch fire.

- Store fireworks in a cool, dry place. If they get wet, don't attempt to dry them out and use them.

- Never try to relight a "dud," as the injury rate is high. Soak the piece in water and use a different one.

- Keep fireworks away from small children, and never allow kids to point or throw them at people, animals, vehicles or anything else that could be damaged.

- Keep a bucket of water handy to cool fireworks materials before disposing of them.

- Never ignite fireworks inside a can, jar or other container.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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