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Officials: Celebrate carefully, and only with legal fireworks

COVINGTON - While only certain kinds of sparklers are lawful to be used to ring in the New Year in Georgia, officials are urging caution, saying that injury or fire damage is possible.

"Sparklers burn 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit at the tip, and at that degree of heat, it gives the opportunity for people to be hurt pretty badly," said Capt. Tony Smith of the Covington Fire Department. "They can have a serious burn even though it is just a sparkler."

As a point of reference, 1,800 degrees is hot enough to melt gold and that is what many allow young children to hold in their hands. Georgia Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine especially urges Georgians to never allow children to use sparklers without adult supervision.

"In 2006, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated approximately 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries," Oxendine said. "Approximately one third of those injuries occurred among children age 14 and younger."

Smith said caution should also be used with fireworks because fires can be ignited from them.

"Believe it or not, we've had house fires caused by bottle rockets going into a gutter and catching leaves on fire which ended up catching the house on fire," he said, adding that, of course, bottle rockets and projectile-type fireworks are illegal in Georgia and should not be used under any circumstances.

"Those types of fireworks are illegal and no one should be using them. But if someone wants to use sparklers to ring in the New Year, we just encourage the proper use," Smith said. "They should always be used with adult supervision, not in an area where there are a lot of combustibles. They should make sure the fireworks are completely extinguished and should have some water to put out any smoldering fireworks to make sure they are out."

Lt. Mark Mitchell of the Newton County Sheriff's Office said his office routinely receives complaints that illegal fireworks are being used.

"Generally, we warn them and tell them to put up the fireworks, but after that, it can come to us having to confiscate the fireworks and even charge the homeowner," he said.

Smith also pointed out that drought conditions still exist.

"I know we've had a significant amount of rain over the last couple of weeks, but we're still in a drought situation, and we do have a potential for some fires," he said.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Firework safety

· Use fireworks outdoors only

· Always have water on hand - a hose or buckets of water.

· Only use fireworks as they are intended. Don't try to alter them or combine them.

· Never re-light a "dud" firework. (Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

· Use common sense when using fireworks. Spectators should be kept a safe distance away and the shooter should wear safety glasses. Fireworks have been known to backfire or shoot off in the wrong direction. Never throw or point fireworks at someone, even in jest.

· Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a designated shooter.

· Only a person over 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type. Make sure they are kept outside and away from the face, clothing and hair.

· Buy only legal fireworks. Illegal fireworks usually go by the names M-80, M-100, blockbuster or quarter-pounder. These explosives were banned in 1966, but still account for many fireworks injuries.

· Point fireworks away from homes, and keep away from brush and leaves and flammable substances. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that local fire departments respond to more 50,000 fires caused by fireworks each year.

· Think about your pet. Animals have sensitive ears and can be extremely frightened or stressed by fireworks. Keep pets indoors to reduce the risk that they'll run loose or get injured.