- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fire officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will team up with Six Flags America in Largo this weekend to offer amusement park passes to people turning in illegal fireworks.

The annual “amnesty” program last year netted thousands of fireworks, from hand-held sparklers to fountains and whirligigs that spit sparks a few feet high.

“Most of the folks have purchased these unknowing that they’re technically breaking the law,” said Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.

But to participate in the program, he said residents must turn in fireworks with price tags about equal to a park pass, which costs about $50.

Though Maryland relaxed its laws in 2001 to allow ground-based backyard fireworks, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore continue to take a hard line on all explosives, said state Deputy Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor. Residents caught possessing and discharging fireworks in those jurisdictions face a $250 fine.

Fairfax and Arlington counties allow ground-based backyard fireworks, but they remain illegal in Alexandria, where maximum penalties call for a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

Possession of aerial or exploding fireworks without a permit is illegal across the region.

Ray Lynn, 60, of Prince George’s County sells small, regulated fireworks in the District just across the Maryland border, even though his home county bans them.

He said he doesn’t ask where his customers live.

“If it wasn’t for the legal fireworks, there’d be nothing but the illegal fireworks in town,” said Mr. Lynn, who has sold fireworks for about 20 years at his red, white and blue stand in Northeast. “There’d be nothing but a lot of people getting hurt.”

The use of backyard fireworks has more than doubled nationwide in the past seven years. The American Pyrotechnics Association said 253 million pounds of consumer fireworks were purchased last year, compared with 102 million pounds bought in 2000.

Forty-five states, including Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District allow backyard fireworks. About half of those states ban the purchase and use of aerial or exploding fireworks without a permit, according to the pyrotechnics association.

Injuries related to the festive flares have declined dramatically since the federal government regulated the industry in 1976, but 60 percent of all fireworks-related injuries occur at this time of year.

Children under 15 are among the hardest hit when accidents happen. They accounted for 45 percent of the estimated 10,800 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2005, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Julie A. Heckman, executive director of the pyrotechnics association, said a third of injuries are caused by illegal explosives used as fireworks. High temperatures make even legal fireworks dangerous when misused.

Hand-held sparklers, for example, burn hotter than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Parents should not be giving young children sparklers,” she said. “We don’t give our children matches and candles to use.”

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