Anyone longing for the days when the fireworks on the Fourth of July were launched from the bridge on the dam at Hope Mills Lake is going to have to keep on longing.
Changes to the local fire code over the years make it unlikely that the fireworks display will be moving back to the lake from its current home at the Hope Mills Municipal Park athletic fields on Rockfish Road.
Brett Ham is the fire marshal for the Hope Mills area. He handles fire safety inspections as well as fire investigations and fire safety education.
Ham, who’s been in the fire safety business for 22 years, said the protocol on handling fireworks has gotten stricter in recent years, resulting in tighter regulations.
“Technically what has happened is (that) the higher a (fireworks) shell flies in the air, the farther you have to extend the safety distance for spectators,’’ Ham said.
Because of that, the size of the shells used has to be adjusted to decrease the amount of a safety distance required. For example, at Municipal Park, the largest shell they can use to stay within safety limits is a three-inch shell.
It would seem the lake would be a perfect location to launch fireworks with all of that water for them to land in and extinguish them. But landing’s not the problem. It’s providing a safe place for the people handling the fireworks to launch them.
Ham said there are multiple issues that make the lake a difficult place for launching fireworks because of the code restrictions.
One of the biggest is that if they are launched from the bridge, the people doing the launching don’t have enough options for where they can escape if something goes wrong.
“They don’t want to jump off the bridge, and that’s what they’d have to do,’’ Ham said.
Shooting fireworks from the bridge would also block access for emergency vehicles answering fire, public safety and medical calls, he said.
“You can’t have a vehicle near that stuff,’’ Ham said. “That cuts us off from the other side of the lake.’’
Another common-sense problem at the lake is a lack of parking. People would have to walk too far to get close enough to see the fireworks.
For people planning to stage their own fireworks displays in their backyards or on private property, Ham offered some advice.
Don’t cross the border into South Carolina and come back with a carload of aerial fireworks. They are illegal. “Private citizens are not supposed to be launching those in North Carolina,’’ he said. “Nothing that flies.’’
Ham said the fireworks you see sold in temporary locations around Cumberland County are legal as long as they don’t fly. “My best safety tip is to follow the laws,’’ he said.
Even if you are following the laws, there are still some precautions to keep everyone out of danger in the backyard.
It’s a good idea to have a bucket or other large container of water around to throw on even smaller fireworks that might misfire or otherwise get out of hand.
Ham urges parents to supervise children with fireworks closely, even simple things like sparklers and firecrackers.
“Most of the injuries are with children,’’ he said. “Parents lose track of them. You can get a thirddegree burn from a sparkler.’’
Adults also need to be careful and keep fireworks away from things like propane gas cylinders or cans of gasoline for lawnmowers. Stay away from piles of brush and other things that are highly combustible.
“They have to be aware of their surroundings,’’ Ham said. “If you or your children catch something on fire, you’re responsible for it.’’
Photo: Brett Ham