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Sparklers most dangers fireworks of them all

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POSTED June 11, 2014 1:40 a.m.

You’ve seen it 1,000 times in movies and on television shows. 

The little boy with his jeans rolled up past his ankles and his T-shirt clung tightly to his chest chases the little girl in her dress with a sparkler in his hand – usually around a parent at a neighborhood party just minutes before the community fireworks show commences and everybody watches it together. 

That’s Hollywood. The truth is that 16 percent of all fireworks related injuries reported every year have to deal directly with the sparklers – which Manteca Fire Marshal Lantz Rey says burns at 1,100 degrees – that are sold as one of the cheapest items at the fireworks booths that will start popping up around Manteca the week before Fourth of July. 

But if you ask Rey, it’s not necessarily the fireworks themselves that are the problem, but the people who are commencing play with them. 

“As long as the person lighting them is the person in the party that’s sober and you have a garden hose ready and a bucket of water to dunk them in and you use them the way they’re supposed to be used – away from any dead grass or vegetation – then there really shouldn’t be a problem,” Rey said. “It’s when you don’t follow those simple guidelines that problems start. 

“Lots of people use them every year and are safe about how they use them. But you have people that light sparklers and hand them to toddlers and watch them run around and that is not safe and it’s asking for something bad to happen.”

Two years ago an illegal aerial firework fired off on Airport Way created a grass fire that destroyed a mobile home. Before that it was a bottle rocket that handed on top of a shake roof in Raymus Village and ignited the shingles. 

The injuries that most people sustain, Rey said, have been minor, and nobody has been killed as a result of fires or injuries from fireworks since Manteca approved the sale of safe-and-sane fireworks to benefit local non-profit groups in 2006. 

“We did have people shooting bottle rockets at each other and that led to an injury but they denied that was the reason when we arrived. That is pretty commonplace for when we do arrive somewhere – people will just hide the fireworks and we’ll have to move on,” he said. “We just don’t have the ability to stay on top of everybody. It takes so much manpower – police department manpower – to do so, and we’re not sneaking up on anybody in our fire engines. We’re trying, but it’s a tough fight.”

The Lathrop Manteca Fire District hasn’t fared much better in the fight. 

According to Fire Chief Gene Neely, his department is in a unique situation because they are responsible for covering not only Lathrop, but the area that surrounds it. And even though residents that reside outside of the city limits aren’t legally entitled to participate in the lighting of fireworks, all they have to do is walk up to a booth, buy them, and take them back home. And most of the time home in an area that’s around lots of dry vegetation and away from municipal fire hydrants, meaning that a water tender is needed to extinguish anything. 

“The dry grass and the fuels out here are ready to combust at the blink of an eye,” Neely said. “This year, more than any other, we’ve had an extensive problem with vegetation – the river never got high enough to soak the river bottoms and that entire area is extremely vulnerable to a fire and it would sweep right through there. 

“We’re looking at situations where there would be spotting across rivers and it moving hundreds of feet and threatening structures that would never normally be in any sort of danger. So right now it’s kind of like playing Russian roulette but instead of one bullet in the chamber you have four. We had a fire a little while ago that threatened a house, and we talked to the homeowners there and they said that the one thing that they were worried about wasn’t fire but a flood. They never expected that their home would ever be a target for a fire. That’s the kind of year that we’re facing right now.”

Neely said that best preventative measure that the public can take in a situation like this is to notify authorities if they see anything suspicious, and if they see smoke or anything that closely resembles a fire, to call 911 so it can be contained before it rages out of control. 

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