Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fireworks, Common Sense, and the Incredible Exploding House

Nothing quite says 'Independence Day' like firing up a sparkler, and setting fire to another few square miles of the American south.


Which is why there won't be fireworks this year in some parts of the country. Not if local authorities have anything to say about it.

"Wildfires, Drought Halt July 4 Fireworks Across South"
The Wall Street Journal, via MyFox Washington, D.C. (July 2, 2011)

"This Fourth of July holiday could be dimmer than usual across the South after officials imposed bans on the sale and use of fireworks amid persistent drought and some of the worst wildfires in recorded history, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

"Officials from Florida to Arizona have prohibited the use of fireworks to reduce the risk of more wildfires. They are also asking counties and residents where bans are not in place to give up holiday displays.

"New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday ordered state police officers to help enforce bans and restrictions put in place across parts of the state. 'The conditions in New Mexico are simply too dangerous for anyone to buy, sell or use fireworks this summer,' she said in a statement.

"The Texas Department of Public Safety Tuesday pleaded with counties, cities and citizens to forgo fireworks. So far, 179 of Texas's 254 counties have banned fireworks, according to Gov. Rick Perry's office...."

The Lemming isn't, generally, of the 'outlaw everything' school of thought. Yes, folks have burned their fingers on sparklers - and worse. Yes, each year some folks die because of medical conditions that started with a steady diet of burgers and fries and shakes and more burgers and fries.

But that doesn't mean that we need to 'save the children - ban hamburgers now!'

This year, though - there's a real drought, and a real danger that fireworks could start off more conflagrations. The key word there is "more." Folks in the Arizona-Florida swath of America already have quite enough fires to deal with.

Under these circumstances, a 'no fireworks' rule makes sense.

Here in central Minnesota, we got drenched a few days back, and then a heat advisory made for a memorable ramp-up to the Fourth of July weekend. And not-quite-legal fireworks have been going snap-crackle-whoosh-boom without striking dread into the Lemming's heart.

"Don't Set Fire to Yourself" - Good Advice, Actually

"Please don't set yourself on fire this weekend"
Jane Friedmann: On Your Side Consumer Alerts, Star Tribune (July 2, 2011)

"Fireworks are dangerous. (Who knew?) That's the latest word from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"The commissioners have a point. To borrow from 'A Christmas Story,' you can SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT with those things.

"Seemingly benign sparklers burn at 2,000 degrees, as the CPSC has indicated in boldface. That's hot enough to melt copper. That's as hot as a blowtorch.

"Bottle rockets, while illegal in Minnesota, may nonetheless fly here and there this weekend. They travel at 7 to 10 feet per second and can deviate from their flight plan without prior authorization. Don't point them at anybody, folks. Well, and don't use them at all. They're illegal, remember?

"Additional tips from the commission:

"•Supervise the wee ones during sparkler activities, especially those under 5.

"•Don't try to relight a dud. This is also considered good relationship advice.

"•Douse used fireworks before putting them in the trash and keep a hose handy for those unexpected fires or 'mishaps.'

"•Don't shoot fireworks off in a glass or metal container.

"•Like alcohol, avoid fireworks that come in a plain brown wrapper; they aren't meant for amateurs.

"•Don't throw lit fireworks at people.

"•Don't carry them around in your pocket.

"•And lastly, my personal favorite, don't hold your body over a firework as you light it.

"I will add one piece of advice of my own.

"•Don't drive around town with a bag of M-80s under the driver's seat."

That last is really good advice for anyone living in America. Citizens aren't allowed to own M-80s. And haven't, since the mid-'60s. Same goes for cherry bombs.

Although the Lemming's convinced that the M-80 ban was at least partly connected with the virulent anti-military-anything craze sweeping the country - there's some sense to it. An M-80 holds a few grams of flash powder, and really is a military explosive - it was designed, so the Lemming understands, as a simulation of artillery fire and other explosives. That "M" really does stand for "military."

They're also something you shouldn't have under your car seat. As Jane Friedmann explained:

"...As the story goes, a person I once knew bought a bunch of M-80s many years ago. That July 4th, he and his girlfriend drove around town with the M-80s in a bag under the driver's seat...."

Doctors can do remarkable things these days, provided someone gets all the pieces to them in time - the dude and dudette lived.

The car became a cone-shaped bit of civic sculpture, set as a sort of "cautionary tale" near the Dairy Building at the Minnesota State Fair. Apparently it's not there any more. The kaput car, that is, not the Dairy Building.

By the way, the Lemming's providing a copy of the "2010 Fireworks Annual Report," (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission staff - but without official review or approval (June, 2011)). Plausible deniability, anyone?

'60s-Plus-50: Mellowed With Age?

The Lemming found the tone of the Star-Tribune article on fireworks safety refreshingly relaxed: a far cry from the strident battle-cries of peace activists back in the 'Good Old Days' - which the Lemming hopes never come back. The '50s weren't all Happy Days either, and that's another topic.


The Lemming found the "2010 Fireworks Annual Report" about as scintillating as most government reports, but your experience may vary. Here's a sample:

"...CPSC staff received reports of three fireworks-related deaths during 2010. In the first incident, a 22-year-old male died after he fell from a cliff when he detonated unspecified fireworks. In the second incident, a 49-year-old male perished when the fireworks he made illegally in his garage exploded. In the third incident, a 55-year-old male died in a house explosion caused by teenagers' mischievous use of Roman candles. CPSC staff has reports of two fireworks-related deaths in 2009. Reporting is not complete for either year, and the actual number of deaths may be higher...."

Married men, the Lemming's heard, live ten years longer, on average, than their bachelor counterparts. And that's not quite another topic.

That "house explosion caused by teenagers' mischievous use of Roman candles" is - intriguing. Apparently the Roman candles ignited curtains, the fire somehow caused an explosion, and the explosion made it impossible for the man to escape.

Now, about the "ban fireworks now or your house will explode" thing?

Between an impending presidential election and endemic fears of cataclysm, catastrophe, and collapse: the Lemming's anticipating some world-class craziness in the near future.

So, for the benefit of the assorted conspiracy buffs, wannabe end-times prophets, and angsty advocates: the Lemming's micro-review of "Tips for Not Appearing Crazy on the Internet:"

"How to Not Sound Crazy - or - THE PARANOIDS ARE AFTER ME!!!"
(June 12, 2011)

"...And yet he's still treated by many as a serious pundit because he has the discipline to make it so it's not blatantly obvious to a casual reader that he's Kleenex-boxes-for-shoes, the-squirrels-are-spying-on-me, kung-fu-fighting-invisible-ninjas crazy...."

Yes! You, too, can cloak your craziness under a convincing cover of conventional composition. And that's - you guessed it - another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:


Brigid said...

Missing a letter: "fireworks could start of more conflagrations"

And don't you just love how the government protects us? Yeeeesh.

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Found, fixed, thanks!

As for the nanny state, you know how may warm fuzzies that gives me. Still, the fireworks bans I've known about have at least some roots in a real concern for the well-being of folks who should know better - but don't.

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