- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

D.C. officials said yesterday they have closed six businesses in a weeklong crackdown on the illegal sale and use of fireworks.

Fire marshals yesterday closed a stand along Benning Road because the owner had no vendor’s license, said Lt. Tony Falwell of the D.C. fire department. He said the vendor was fined $500 for every case of fireworks in his possession and that the maximum penalty was $1,000 per illegal item and 90 days in jail.

The five other stands were closed either for not having a vendor’s license or for selling illegal fireworks, Lt. Falwell said.

The District allows residents to use sparklers, snakes and cones, but Roman candles and loud fireworks that blaze into the sky are illegal.

Lt. Falwell said D.C. police also are curtailing the use of fireworks on streets and have cited six residents this week. He said police usually confiscate the fireworks from minors but give adults citations, which carry fines of $300 to $500.

“Kids are usually getting the [fireworks] from knucklehead adults,” Lt. Falwell said.

While the District is getting tough on enforcement, neighboring jurisdictions are getting innovative.

Prince George’s County is offering amnesty and free admission to Six Flags America to residents who surrender their fireworks.

“Thousands of fireworks have been turned in by our citizens and residents,” Mark Brady, Prince George’s County fire department spokesman, said of the 3-year-old program. “More importantly, there have been zero fireworks-related injuries.”

Prince George’s officials once posted police officers at the D.C. border to stop motorists from smuggling illegal fireworks into the county.

“But now the only thing we post are signs,” said Mr. Brady, who said the spot checks probably made an impact.

The possession of sparklers and such ground-based fireworks as snakes and cones were legalized in Maryland in 2001, but the possession of such heavy fireworks as Roman candles and firecrackers still carry a $250 fine.

Some counties continue to enforce more-stringent laws, while others follow the new state regulations.

Prince George’s, which has the strictest regulations, says residents cannot “manufacture, possess, store, sell or use fireworks.”

“What we have done is to eliminate any confusion,” Mr. Brady said. “Everything is illegal.”

Montgomery County forbids all fireworks except the tiny snaps or pops. The penalty for illegal fireworks possession is $500.

County Fire Inspector Matthew Kelleher said he did not know the exact number of residents who had been fined.

With recent budget restrictions, “a lot of jurisdictions consider it a luxury to be able to have strict fireworks regulations,” said John Scholz of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. He said the department has issued no fireworks citations this year.

Anne Arundel follows state law and now allows roadside stands, which police say makes it difficult to distinguish what is legal.

“Now you have to look closer,” Mr. Scholz said.

Area hospitals called for this article reported no injuries or burns related to fireworks.

Dr. James Jeng, associate director of the Washington Hospital Center burn unit, offers practical advice: Use common sense and never ignite fireworks without adult supervision.

“Some of that stuff is fairly energetic and powerful enough to blow off fingers,” he said.

Dr. Jeng said problems begin when people use fireworks in ways they are not intended to be used.

For example, he said, injuries are more likely to occur when multiple fireworks are lighted or gasoline is added.

Virginia laws are similar to those in Maryland. They ban the possession of firecrackers and explosives that travel along the ground or in the air.

Both states allow public displays with permits. Local jurisdictions may impose more stringent laws.

Arlington County prohibits the possession or discharge of fireworks in streets and public places, but allows them on private property. Violators can be fined a maximum $2,500.

In Fairfax County, Steve Weissman said he and other fire marshals must inspect 72 firework stands and that each has as many as 1,000 different items.

County law prohibits fireworks that spray higher than 12 feet, he said, and stand owners selling illegal items must return them to the manufacturer.

Mr. Weissman said the maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and one year in jail. “And we obviously don’t want people with fireworks to mix them with alcohol,” he said.

Unlike Maryland jurisdictions, which often rely on neighbors to report violations, two fire inspectors and two marshals are assigned to each town, country club and organization that has a permit to set off a Fourth of July display, Mr. Weissman said.

The city of Fairfax is equally strict. Fire marshals pretest fireworks, which are limited to sparklers with plumes less than 12 feet high.

Fireworks also must have fuses at least 1 inches long, said Fire Marshal Keith Cunningham.

Alexandria does not allow any fireworks on the Fourth of July, and violators can receive a $2,500 fine and a one-year jail sentence.

“We have a lot of people living in close [proximity],” said Amy Bertsch, Alexandria police department spokeswoman. “And every year, there are one or two [residents] get charged. We usually confiscate the fireworks.”

Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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