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Small fireworks deliver big bang, firefighters warn

Jun. 25, 2014
 
Danger of fireworks demonstrated
Danger of fireworks demonstrated: A demonstration on the physical and fire dangers posed by fireworks by Fond du Lac fire chief Peter O’Leary. Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Patrick Flood/Action Reporter Media.
Fond du Lac Fire Chief Peter O'Leary holds a package of firecrackers during a demonstration on fireworks hazards. / Patrick Flood/Gannett Wisconsin Media

Small fireworks have some big firepower.

Fond du Lac Fire Chief Peter O’Leary showed just how on Tuesday afternoon, lighting firecrackers wedged in bell peppers, tomatoes and a moldy potato with a blow torch to show how much damage they can cause.

The demonstration took place at the Fond du Lac Off-Highway Vehicle Park.

O’Leary said he bought bottle rockets, firecrackers and sparklers in plain clothes from an Oshkosh-area fireworks vendor, along with a $3 permit. Wisconsinites can buy fireworks that explode or leave the ground as long as vendors provide a permit, but can’t legally light or possess them without another permit from their community.

“Anything that leaves the ground or explodes is illegal,” said Troy Haase, division chief of fire prevention for the Fond du Lac Fire Department. “They don’t tell you, you can use them, they just sell them. You have to have enough sense to know you can’t use them.”

Assistant Fire Chief Steven Beer said firefighters respond to a firework-related fire about every three years. Bottle rockets cause more fires than other fireworks; they’re unpredictable, and likely to get wedged in gutters and roofs.

The Fond du Lac Fire Department is worried about legal fireworks, too. Haase used a heat measurement machine and found out that a lit sparkler — which doesn’t explode or leave the ground — can reach 1,200 degrees.

Fond du Lac County towns issue permits and pass copies to the Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Rick Olig said. But the office sees copies of only three or four permits a year. When deputies hear fireworks going off, they assume the owners didn’t get a permit.

“We enforce the law, we don’t make the law,” Olig said. “It’s not really something we control.”

The baseline first-offender fine for shooting off fireworks is $200.50 for a disorderly conduct citation. If someone is injured from fireworks, officers could issue criminal charges, Olig said.

But it can be hard to prove someone was shooting fireworks.

“Somebody’s not going to step forward and say ‘Yes, I have a box of fireworks and I’ve been shooting them off all evening,’” Olig said.

Authorities respond to more fireworks complaints in the city than in rural areas. Olig said officers see an uptick in fireworks complaints around the Fourth of July, but they also see more drunken driving, underage drinking and other incidents during the holiday.

Nate Beck writes for Action Reporter Media of Fond du Lac

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