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Are Sparklers a Safe Alternative to Fireworks?

Myth: Sparklers are safe.

Facts: They’re hand-held, easy to use, legal for amateurs in most states—and darned pretty, too. In contrast to dangerous pyrotechnics that actually explode, the fizzling brilliance of sparklers might seem harmless. But sparklers pose serious dangers.

Burning as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, they can ignite clothing and burn skin and eyes. In a 2006 study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission over a monthlong period spanning July 4, sparklers were implicated in 1,000 injuries to eyes, hands and legs. Sixty percent of the victims were under 15 years old, and a third of those were under 5. More alarming still, at least two sparkler injuries in 2007 required amputations.

“Putting it simply,” says John Hall, author of a recent report on fireworks for the National Fire Protection Association, “things can go very, very wrong very, very fast with private, amateur use of fireworks. So all the careful arrangements you think you’ve made can be easily overcome in fractions of a second, because people are that close to things that are that hot.”

Still looking for do-it-yourself fun with fireworks? Channel your passion into oohs and aahs and shower the pros with handmade applause. Professional pyrotechnists train for as long as three years to become licensed in fireworks display. For safety, as well as economy, enjoying free fireworks at a public show is the brightest idea around.

Beth Goulart is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.

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