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Fire officials urge people to be safe around fireworks

More than 30% of fireworks injuries are from sparklers and 45% of firework injuries happen to children, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and State Fire Marshal Office. Statistics also showed an average of 75 hospital visits each year in Minnesota due to fireworks injuries.

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File Photo: The 2018 City of Brainerd Fourth of July fireworks show. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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Fourth of July weekend is almost here and, after a year off due to the pandemic, family and friends are ready to celebrate by having a barbecue, going to a parade and enjoying fireworks.

The Brainerd lakes area has been called “Minnesota’s Fourth of July Capital” and all the outdoor Fourth of July festivities are back on for 2021. Brainerd, Crosby and Longville’s Fourth of July celebrations will be Sunday, July 4; Pequot Lakes is Saturday and Sunday; while Breezy Point, Nisswa and Crosslake’ celebrations are Saturday.

As residents and tourists are having a good time, fire officials urge people to leave the fireworks to the experts as the lakes area has been very dry and is in a moderate drought. Every county in Minnesota was in either a low- or moderate-fire danger Tuesday, June 28. Currently, the DNR has burning restrictions in place to ensure public safety in the counties of Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Morrison, Todd, Wadena and the southern portion of Beltrami. The restrictions include:

  • No campfires are allowed for dispersed, remote or wilderness camping.

  • Campfires in established fire rings associated with a home, cabin, campground, or resort are allowed, but extreme caution is warranted.

  • No fireworks may be ignited on any public or private land outside city limits.

  • Burning permits will not be issued for debris, brush, or yard waste.

While residents in these affected counties may see green vegetation, the current fire situation remains dangerous.
RELATED: What to do in the lakes area for the Fourth of July
“Unusually hot and dry conditions have increased the risk of fire,” said DNR Fire Prevention Supervisor Casey McCoy in a news release. “One unintentional spark in these conditions could result in thousands of charred acres and property damage.

“This is a dangerous time for wildfires in Minnesota.”

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While the DNR and wildfire agencies are ready to respond to wildfires, McCoy said the responsibility for preventing fires in the first place largely falls to the public.

“We don’t issue burning restrictions lightly. It’s a matter of public safety and resources,” he said. “Minnesotans have a history of making a difference on wildfire prevention when they keep safety top of mind.”

RELATED: Lakes area finally sees some rain, but it's still dry
Minnesota's wildland fire management agencies report more than 1,350 wildland fires have burned roughly 34,000 acres since the beginning of March. The dry conditions have been building since last fall, and many areas in northern Minnesota remain abnormally dry or in moderate drought.

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the rain this past weekend was helpful and the city’s plan to launch the fireworks in town has not changed.

Fireworks sign
Aaron Dunmire of Brainerd is selling fireworks off Highway 371, north of Baxter next to the Tyke’s Carpet Sales building. He is one of two vendors seen off Highway 371 from Baxter to Pequot Lakes. Brainerd Dispatch / Jennifer Kraus

The city of Nisswa does not shoot off fireworks for the Fourth of July, but Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said if residents shoot off fireworks they need to make sure they are aware of their surroundings, make sure there are no dry materials around the area where the fireworks would be lit and make sure they use legalized fireworks in Minnesota.

Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson said the city shoots off fireworks on the field at the high school, which does not have a sprinkler system. Nelson said he plans to talk to the city’s fireworks committee about possibly moving the fireworks launch on the parking lot just to the east of the field instead, but wasn’t sure if that would work.

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“This won’t change where the people are viewing it from, as it’ll still be in the same area, just maybe 100 feet over,” Nelson said. “So the viewing really wouldn’t be affected. But I have to talk to the fireworks people to make sure this is something they can do as they usually do fireworks in a field or the grass and ... I don’t know if it’s possible to move it to the pavement.”

Nelson said they typically have one truck on standby during the fireworks, but based on how dry it is the fire department plans to have three trucks on standby. He said they want to extinguish any possible fires as fast as possible when they’re small to keep them from spreading.

Nelson said many residents in the Pequot Lakes area shoot off fireworks on their private property and he would like to remind them to use caution when doing so because of the dry conditions. If people do shoot off their own fireworks they are encouraged to have some sort of water standing nearby — such as a garden hose or bucket.

“If they can have something to take care of the fire quicker before it gets too big,” that would be ideal, Nelson said. “All the fire departments have been on many grass fires this spring and this summer already.”

Inside fireworks tent
A variety of fireworks can be found at at fireworks vendors in the Brainerd lake area, including this one owned by Aaron Dunmire of Brainerd off Highway 371, north of Baxter next to the Tyke’s Carpet Sales building. Brainerd Dispatch / Jennifer Kraus

Nelson also encouraged people to use common sense if having recreational fires. He said residents should check burning restrictions from the DNR’s website before they start a fire and make sure the campfire is in a contained area, such as surrounded by rocks or a metal container. And people should keep those contained fires at 3 feet in diameter or smaller.

Pillager doesn’t have fireworks for the Fourth of July, but has them for the Pillager Cass County Fair scheduled July 8-11. Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler said they always have firefighters observing the fair area to make sure no sparks or debris start a fire on the grounds during the fair.

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Ringler said if residents shoot off fireworks he asks them to use forethought on where they’ll shoot off the fireworks and where the debris will land. If people have an area where they want to shoot off the fireworks that has really dry, dead grass in the area, they may want to reconsider, Ringler said.

“Besides the fire hazard, the sparklers everyone thinks are so fun also pose a burn hazard,” Ringler said. “So everyone should use caution with the sparklers or any firework for that matter.”

People also should flush their garden hose, too, before spraying it on themselves because the water in a hose sitting in the sun is hot and can burn a person’s skin, Ringler added. Outside of the campfires and fireworks, the Pillager fire chief said other fire hazards people should be aware of are burning garbage in barrels or leaving a coffee can on a deck for cigarette butts.

Ringler said the debris in the barrels will oftentimes smolder and if the wind picks up it could start a grass fire. Ringler suggests people have a screen or some sort of covering on the barrel to prevent the debris or ashes from igniting a fire. Burning household garbage in burn barrels, stoves, and fire pits creates pollution that's dangerous to human health and contaminates the air, water, and soil, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported, noting it's also against the law for most homeowners in Minnesota.

“The cigarette butt coffee cans on the deck is not a good idea, unless you have some sand in there to bury that cigarette butt,” Ringler said. “We've had some calls where people just toss them in there and they’ve fallen off or there are a bunch of them in here and then those filters will start on fire, and then can spread from there. ... Again, we ask people just to be careful.”

fireworks package
This is an example of the fireworks package sold by Aaron Dunmire of Brainerd. Dunmire's tent is off Highway 371, north of Baxter next to the Tyke’s Carpet Sales building. Brainerd Dispatch / Jennifer Kraus

Fireworks injuries

More than 30% of fireworks injuries are from sparklers and 45% of firework injuries happen to children, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and State Fire Marshal’s Office. Statistics also showed an average of 75 hospital visits each year in Minnesota due to fireworks injuries.

State fire officials urge people to:

  • Only use Minnesota-legal fireworks like sparklers, fountains, ground spinners and snappers.

  • Point fireworks away from people and animals.

  • Use fireworks in an open area away from trees and houses.

  • Extinguish and dispose of spent fireworks in a bucket of water. Do not try to relight a dud.

  • Always use caution around fireworks and make sure children are supervised.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 7,300 fireworks-related injuries were treated in emergency departments between June 21, 2019, and July 21, 2019. Overall, in 2019, 10,000 injuries were treated in emergency departments. The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers at an estimated 30%; legs, an estimated 23%; eyes, an estimated 15%; head, face and ears, an estimated 15%; and arms, an estimated 10%.
“We see it every year. Many Minnesotans are injured and wind up in the emergency department because of injuries caused by fireworks,” said Minnesota Medical Association President Dr. Marilyn Peitso in a news release. “Physicians urge people to leave these dangerous explosives to the professionals. Serious injuries can result from accidents with fireworks.”

Some fireworks that are purchased out of state or through other channels can be extremely dangerous because of their high explosive content, the news release stated. Even relatively basic fireworks like firecrackers can cause significant injury and the Minnesota Medical Association would prefer that fireworks be detonated only by trained individuals and not available to the general public.

Fireworks sales

Aaron Dunmire of Brainerd is selling fireworks off Highway 371, north of Baxter next to the Tyke’s Carpet Sales building. He is one of two vendors off Highway 371 from Baxter to Pequot Lakes.

“There are not as many vendors anymore as there is a huge shortage of fireworks this year,” Dunmire said. “I ordered my big order like I always do and I got half of it in. It's crazy.

I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’ve never had anything like this happen where there was a shortage. I’m not sure if it’s due to COVID or not. I would assume it is, but I don’t know why. Not sure if they were unable to manufacture them last year and what that whole process is. They (fireworks) come from China.”

When talking about fireworks safety, Dunmire said people just need to use common sense and to treat fireworks like you would treat a firearm — or a bomb.

fireworks snow cone
These Snow Cone fireworks are a popular buy and can be found at Aaron Dunmire tent off Highway 371, north of Baxter next to the Tyke’s Carpet Sales building. Brainerd Dispatch / Jennifer Kraus

“If you shake (fireworks) up and start throwing them back and forth or something and then you’re lighting it off or you're shooting each other — that’s not a good idea,” Dunmire said. “You can’t be mixing those powders up either because it could blow up on you. … These powders will explode. So people should treat it like it's a bomb almost because if you mix the powders and something goes wrong ... It's gonna be bad news.”

Dunmire said people need to check the area before lighting fireworks. If the area has dry, dead grass, people should grab a garden hose and water the area down.
“If you light the fireworks by a lake setting or you're near water, that's always a good idea,” Dunmire said. “Putting boards down to light the fireworks or putting them on a gravel or cement area also is always a good idea ... and just being cautious on who's lighting them, and just taking your time with it really. People want to start lighting off everything at once and then they are too close to it. ... I mean, you just have to be really careful in that sense.”

Dunmire said he sells fireworks because he loves fireworks and putting on private shows for his buddies. He said there are a lot of cool fireworks these days, from sparklers to ground spinners that produce a variety of colors to cakes or repeaters, which are the ones that crackle. He also sells one called a “Snow Cone” that produces “tons of different colors and you light it and they last for like two minutes.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.

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