For a country that celebrates its independence through colorful, explosive displays, is it any surprise that the Fourth of July has historically been America’s most dangerous holiday?
The Pew Research Center analyzed injuries related to the July holiday using 2000-2018 injury data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The analysis reveals that an average of 45,000 people visit U.S. hospital emergency rooms for treatment of injuries on July 4 and on July 5, bringing the two-day total to nearly 91,000. The daily figures typically represent the highest number of daily hospital admissions in a given year.
And the cause for this explosion in the number of injuries? Fireworks, of course. Pew’s research showed that more than half of the year’s fireworks-related injuries occur during the first eight days of July. The most common firework injuries include thermal burns (38%), contusions and abrasions (19%) and lacerations (15%).
What’s more is that the CPSC reported last year that fireworks-related injuries and deaths increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with deaths up 50% between 2019 and 2020. The CPSC attributes this increase to the cancellation of public Fourth of July fireworks displays during the pandemic, which may have resulted in consumers using fireworks on their own.
Fourth of July Safety Tips
Before watching or setting off fireworks of any kind, it’s important to know the local regulations surrounding them. The use of consumer fireworks is legal in 49 states and Washington, D.C., but the specific limits on them vary from state to state.
Here are some fireworks safety tips from the CPSC:
- Avoid buying fireworks packaged in brown paper, which can indicate that they were manufactured for professional displays and can be more dangerous to consumers.
- Light fireworks one at a time and keep a safe distance from them.
- Don’t try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
- Keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby to put out fires or other mishaps.
- Douse used fireworks with water before disposing them to prevent trash fires.
- Never point or throw fireworks at others.
The Role of Fireworks in Starting Wildfires
Another safety consideration for fireworks is the risk of starting a wildfire. Given the elevated danger of wildfires in certain states in the western U.S., fire districts and law enforcement agencies in Contra Costa County, California warned residents of the dangers of setting off fireworks when “the risk of causing catastrophic wildfires during this time of extremely high fire danger is great.”
Research from the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado-Boulder examining data from 1992 to 2015 found that humans started more U.S. wildfires on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year, with fireworks being the main cause of the blazes. Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that an estimated 19,500 fires started by fireworks were reported to local U.S. fire departments in 2018.
The Associated Press reported that cities in the western U.S. are cancelling Fourth of July fireworks displays this year due to the increased risk of wildfires, as well as supply chain and staffing shortages. The demand for fireworks remains high, however. A spokesperson from a fire department in Phoenix, Arizona, told the AP that the cancellation of community fireworks displays could increase consumer-grade fireworks use. This could raise the risk of homes and dry areas catching fire.
Officials in drought-stricken Utah urged consumers to follow fireworks safety guidelines, or forego using them altogether to help prevent a spike in wildfires. For those looking for safe and festive alternatives, the NFPA shared some tips on how to celebrate the Fourth without fireworks:
- Avoid celebrating with sparklers, as they can cause burns.
- Instead, consider using glow sticks for a bright and colorful nighttime display.
- If you’re missing the loud explosions fireworks bring, noise makers and confetti poppers can be a fun alternative.
There is already an increased risk of wildfires due to climate change, and the misuse of fireworks doesn’t help the situation. Projections from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) show that an average annual 1-degree Celsius temperature change would increase the median burned area per year by as much as 600% in some forests in the western U.S. And, while “the Fourth” celebrates America’s independence, keeping our communities and environment safe is worth celebrating as well.