It’s that time of year, when families gather to celebrate Independence Day with food and fireworks. Some enjoy displays put on by their town, and others may light fireworks on their own property. Federal explosives regulations set forth by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) define “display fireworks” and “consumer fireworks” as the two general categories of fireworks sold in the United States. However, individual states, and even towns, regulate the sales and use of consumer fireworks.
If you live in a place where consumer fireworks are permitted, you may be able to purchase items such as sparklers, bottle rockets, firecrackers or small fireworks. Due to their size, these items may seem harmless. However, a June 2016 report by the National Fire Protection Association says that, “two-thirds of the fires started by fireworks were brush, grass or forest fires” in 2009-2013.
On July 5, 2015, KXTV reported that fireworks caused damage to two homes in Sacramento, California, when a person tossed fireworks that landed on a dry juniper tree. “The tree caught fire, and the flames later spread,” said Sacramento City Fire Department spokesman Roberto Padilla. “Juniper trees are rich in oil and very flammable, particularly in drought conditions.”
Needless to say, the dangers of starting a fire are high when using fireworks near trees. If you’re going to indulge in your own pyrotechnic display this year, take the following steps to minimize risks:
Treat fireworks with respect. Heed all warnings on the packaging, never use fireworks in any way other than expressed in the instructions and never allow children to play with or light fireworks.
Never point fireworks at trees. Trees, shrubs and grass can easily catch fire, so consider lighting your display in a location that is open and is bare dirt, concrete, sand or crushed stone. If you’re unable to gain access to a space like this, be aware of the trees surrounding the area where you will be lighting fireworks. Dry, dead trees, bushes and brush are particularly susceptible to catching fire.
Pay attention to the weather. Wind can carry sparks and embers into neighboring yards and trees where you may not see if they start a fire. If it’s very windy, consider skipping the fireworks.
Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby. This will help you gain control of a fire should your grass, shrubs or trees ignite due to fireworks.
To check if your state permits the use of consumer fireworks, review this list provided by the CPSC. Also check with your local authorities to see what is and is not permitted in your city or town.
If you’re concerned about a tree in your backyard, contact a qualified tree care professional. A professional arborist will be able to determine the health of the tree and provide recommendations for how to handle it.