JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the Fourth of July holiday weekend begins, experts are offering fireworks safety tips.
Fireworks are flying off the shelves at stores. Many families light fireworks as a tradition on Independence Day but may not know they’re using illegal fireworks.
“I like the bottle rockets and artillery shells that shoot in the air because I like the colors and the sounds,” said Daiven Prom, who loves fireworks.
Florida's fireworks laws allow people to buy things under the "sparklers" category, meaning items like fountains, snakes, glow worms and sparklers.
According to the State Fire Marshal, fireworks categorized as firecrackers, Roman candles and red waves explode or shoot through the air, and those fireworks aren't legal in Florida.
Many people will attend fireworks shows across the state, but others may try to create their own pyrotechnic light shows. But in Duval County, anything that explodes in the sky, or can be launched like a rocket, is illegal.
“If they project into the air, you cannot use them unless you’re using them for agricultural purposes,” said Gil Smith, News4Jax crime and safety analyst.
That means fireworks like Roman candles, bottle rockets and mortars can only be used to scare off birds from farms or fish hatcheries.
In St. Johns County, there's a loophole in which customers are allowed to buy fireworks as long as they sign a waiver. In the fine print, it states the buyer intends to use the fireworks for approved purposes.
“The company or the people who are selling the fireworks are covered in you sign a form stating that you are using them for agricultural purposes; it clears them. But it doesn’t clear the person who was purchasing the fireworks because they’re not allowed to use them,” Smith said.
News4Jax found one TNT stand in the Englewood neighborhood of Jacksonville where no waiver was required to take home a potentially dangerous set of fireworks.
“People are selling fireworks for different charities. They may not have all the proper licenses or understanding of the fireworks they are selling to warn the customers,” Smith said.
Anyone caught lighting illegal fireworks can face $1,000 in fines and even jail time.
State officials said it’s safer for people to attend fireworks shows instead of setting off their own.
But for anyone who does decide to use fireworks over the holiday weekend, experts said be sure to have a bucket full of water or a fire extinguisher on hand just in case of an emergency.
Experts also remind parents to keep an eye on the kids.
“Even with sparklers because that can catch their clothes on fire. It can get too close to their face or skin and burn them. All these fireworks should be handled by an adult,” Smith said.
Smith recommended several tips for parents to follow over the Fourth of July weekend:
- Check the labels on all fireworks before igniting them.
- Keep a buffer or barrier around the fireworks so kids can’t get too close.
- Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
- After each use, douse the fireworks with water before throwing them away.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who also serves as Florida's State Fire Marshal, also offered several safety tips for Floridians celebrating Independence Day:
- Never give sparklers to young children, as sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees, which is at least 200 degrees hotter than a standard butane lighter.
- People should check to see if their local community has imposed a ban on all private fireworks due to drought conditions.
- Sparklers should be used only on sand, concrete or other non-flammable surfaces -- away from brush, trash or other objects that could catch fire.
- Keep pets indoors and away from all sparklers.
- Light only one item at a time and never attempt to re-light.
- Never mix alcohol and fireworks.
- Be prepared by having a fire extinguisher or hose and a bucket of water readily available.
To find a full list of sparklers approved by the state fire marshal, visit myfloridacfo.com.