Harris County

How To Use Fireworks Safely During The Holidays

The sale of fireworks in Texas has started and there are thousands of selling points.

A fireworks stand in Spring, TX. The sale of fireworks in Texas has started on December 20 and will go through January 1, 2019.

UPDATE (June 26, 2019): This post has been updated to include information specific to the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The sale of fireworks in Texas has started this week and will go through July 4. The state has more than 4,000 establishments that sell fireworks, including brick and mortar stores and outdoor stands. And experts have a considerable list of safety tips to keep in mind when handling these festive objects.

Last year, there were 21 fires, five hand injuries and about $600,000 in home damages due to fireworks, Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said at a press conference Monday to kick off the sale of fireworks this season.  

When it comes to fireworks, one of the most important safety tips is that children shouldn’t be handling them. “The sparklers look fun and they’re pretty, but they actually burn more than six times hotter than boiling water, so they can be very dangerous to children,” said Rachel Moreno, public information officer for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.

According to Ben Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Insurance, fireworks should be lit on a hard surfaced area, such as concrete, and in areas away from dry brush and grass.

Moreno emphasizes that people must follow the directions and warning labels printed on the fireworks packaging. “Those are there for a reason,” she said. “The fireworks have been tested to operate in a way that is safe when you follow the directions and warning labels.”

Gonzalez and Moreno also said it’s important to make sure there is water or a bucket nearby in case something catches on fire. “Always have some kind of water source available,” said Gonzalez. “That can just be a garden hose or couple of buckets of water to extinguish things that maybe didn’t go off and you are not sure if it’s going to go off, and just to make sure that you are quickly available to put out any small fires.”

Know the territory

Moreno also said it’s essential to know the territory. Counties are usually the authority with jurisdiction and their rules apply regarding the use of fireworks.

“There are a number of cities that are actually located within Harris County –[the] city of Houston obviously being the big one— but there are some smaller jurisdictions that are actual cities that do not allow fireworks,” she said. “Make sure you are in unincorporated Harris County where you can shoot those fireworks.”

She also said it’s necessary to “make sure it’s legal in your community and also check with your homeowners association.”

Among Harris County’s guidelines, is that you can’t ignite fireworks within 100 feet of establishments that sell flammable liquids, such as gas stations, or where flammable compressed gasses are stored and dispensed. Igniting fireworks within 100 feet of a place where fireworks are stored or sold is also an offense.

The minimum distance is bigger, 600 feet, when it comes to churches, hospitals (other than a veterinary hospital), asylum facilities, licensed child care centers and schools, unless the person receives authorization in writing from the organization in question.

Texas has approximately 4,200 establishments that sell fireworks, combining brick and mortar stores, and outdoor stands.

One firework at a time

Moreno also recommends only lighting one firework at a time because “when you have multiple fireworks going off, it can cause a very dangerous situation.”

Not drinking or consuming drugs while operating fireworks, as well as not pointing fireworks at homes, buildings, metal or glass containers or people and being mindful of pets are some other recommendations made by the county.

Another practical precaution is using protective eyewear because fireworks can send shrapnel out. “A small object ricocheting into the eyeball can oftentimes rupture a globe and can cause the loss of that eye,” said Dr. Amy Laude, a family physician with UTHealth and UT Physicians-Southwest.

It is also recommended to never have any part of your body over the firework. 

Proper disposal

Disposing of the remnants of fireworks by putting them in water and keeping them far away from the home is a final step in the list of precautions. Fireworks that are still hot shouldn’t be tossed in trash cans and, in case the person decides to store fireworks, they should be kept in a cool, dry place.

In the case of “dud” fireworks, they must never be re-lit and you should wait 15 or 20 minutes and then soak them in a bucket of water.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office grants permits to fireworks brick and mortar stores, as well as fireworks stands. Gonzalez, who is also a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, says the agency conducts inspections, typically on a yearly basis, to check a store or stand’s exits, fire extinguishers, electrical systems and generators.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office focuses on inspecting rural selling points because the others are typically inspected by the local county fire marshal, especially in big counties such as Harris.

Residents are urged to report complaints regarding the sale or illegal use of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of Harris County by calling (281) 999‐2200 or emailing fmosupport@fmo.hctx.net.

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

Digital News Producer

Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz is originally from Madrid (Spain). He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree...

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