Fredrickson: Don’t play with fireworks this year

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  Michelle Fredrickson is a guest columnist and the former opinion editor of The Collegian.

I used to live in the middle of farm country. One year on July 4, there was a several-acre fire that blazed through some fields, putting local residents on edge as the firefighters quickly suppressed it before the wind caught it and turned it into something massive.

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That fire was started by some college guys lighting fireworks from the top of a hay bale.

Turns out, this is not an uncommon thing. Around 18,500 fires per year are started by fireworks, which are the single largest contributor to wildfires in the country. That is why it’s important to take precautions this July 4 and make sure not to contribute to that number.

Around 18,500 fires per year are started by fireworks, which are the single largest contributor to wildfires in the country according to NFPA

A fireworks display in Fort Collins for the 4th of July
Fireworks over City Park (Chapman
Croskell | Collegian)

In Fort Collins, where owning, buying, selling, or lighting any kind of fireworks is illegal, that means staying away from the fireworks this holiday week and going to a professional show instead.

The majority of Colorado is still either unusually dry or in a drought. Fort Collins sits in a small oasis of the state not currently enforcing a fire ban, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be careless. The forests in Larimer County are beginning to enact fire bans, and the wildfire risk is still very real.

People celebrating the holiday this week should be mindful of the fire risk and celebrate at a public show, without lighting or using any personal fireworks. No matter how cool it may look to light a big boomer up by oneself, it’s not worth the risk of injury or natural destruction.

Accidents start wildfires much more often than lightning strikes, with as much as 90 percent of wildfires being human-caused. Those accidents are usually results of someone being careless and not thinking of the devastating consequences their actions could have.

For example, last year’s Eagle Creek fire in Washington and Oregon was started by a teenager playing with fireworks, and devastated a huge natural area, trapping hikers and putting many lives at risk.

The teenager who started the fire was sentenced to almost 2,000 hours of community service and a massive $37 million fee.

“Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” the teen told the court. “Every time I hear people talk about the fire, I put myself down. I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”

Don’t let this be you.

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Be careful this Independence Day and don’t celebrate recklessly. Find a fireworks show near you and let the professionals do the work.

The National Fire Protection Association advises people not to use commercial fireworks at all, and to instead go to a fireworks show put on by professional pyrotechnicians. They correctly point out that so many wildfires are rooted in fireworks, and that even sparklers, which seem comparatively safe, burn hot enough to cause third-degree burns.

Fireworks are much more dangerous than people tend to think they are. During the weeks around the Fourth, nearly 300 people go to the emergency room every day for injuries related to fireworks, and about half of those injuries are burns. Nearly 13,000 people are treated in emergency rooms because of fireworks per year.

That’s a lot more people than are injured watching a show run by professionals.

Fort Collins has sensible laws regarding fireworks, given the drought and the history of wildfires in the area. Even for people not spending the summer in Fort Collins, it’s still a better idea to go to a show than to risk personal safety and environmental wellbeing for the sake of a few booms.

You never know which spark is going to set off a massive fire, and nobody wants to be the next person stuck with a $37 million debt and a lifetime of guilt over a firework.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42