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Be safe with fireworks this season

Fireworks are synonymous with summer. They mark special occasions, festivals and warm-weather holidays like Independence Day. When handled by professionals, fireworks can be quite the spectacle. However, if lit by amateurs, fireworks can be very risky.

Though they offer awe-inspiring views, fireworks can be dangerous. According to data collected in 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 7,000 people in the United States were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from fireworks during the period of June 20 to July 20, 2008. Nearly half of all people injured were children under the age of 15. Most injuries occurred to young people under the age of 20.

The Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program states that fireworks injuries often occur around the injured patients' homes, and fireworks injuries require hospitalization far more often than injuries that do not involve fireworks.

All types of fireworks have an inherent danger, even sparklers. Sparklers burn at more than 1,000 F and can ignite clothing very quickly. Those who take an active roll in the lighting and shooting of fireworks are more prone to injury. The most common injuries include burns and injuries to the eyes caused by cuts and foreign objects lodged in the eyes.

Although fireworks injuries are common, they also are largely preventable. The following are a few safety tips aimed at helping people avoid injury when enjoying fireworks displays.

* Keep your distance. It is important for all people watching fireworks to keep their distance from explosives. Even the best-made fireworks can sometimes veer off course and fly into spectators. The further the distance away the display is, the better chance for safety.

* Avoid amateurs. Professional fireworks companies know the ins and outs of fireworks and often have safety procedures in place. Fireworks may be ignited remotely by a computer or an electronic fuse device, keeping people away from ground zero. An amateur may not have the dexterity or skills to get away from the lit firework in time. When enjoying fireworks, just make sure the person putting on the show is a professional.

* Exercise caution around fireworks. Some people construct their own fireworks from spare parts or try to up the ante by adding an accelerant to achieve a bigger boom. These practices are dangerous and can lead to highly unpredictable explosions. It's never good to make your own fireworks show, but if you find yourself at a party where someone is experimenting with fireworks, exercise extreme caution.

Fireworks can be a fun spectacle when handled by professionals in a safe manner. Families can consider watching a city- or town-sponsored fireworks display instead of risking injury with at-home pyrotechnics.