By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - GREENVILLE - Anyone thinking of bringing illegal fireworks across the Maine border this summer should think again.Because more illegal fireworks are being discovered in the state each year and more injuries are resulting from their improper use, the State Fire Marshal's Office is stepping up its efforts to combat the growing threat.
The State Fire Marshal's Office, with assistance from the Maine State Police, intends to conduct details at border crossings to stop the influx of these noisemakers that can bring disastrous results if handled improperly, according to state Fire Marshal John C. Dean.
"We'll be doing some specific details at border crossings," Dean confirmed Friday. "The fire marshal's office staff will remain focused on this issue, and all others pertinent to fire, but ultimately we need the help of all Maine citizens and our guests to reduce the risk of injury from fireworks."
With the exception of shows approved by the state, and sparklers, morning glories and paper caps, all other fireworks are illegal in Maine. Dean said that just because the latter three fireworks are permissible does not make them safe. "Safe and sane fireworks have caused more injuries than illegal fireworks," he said.
Dean recalled that an 8-year-old girl received second- and third-degree burns to her leg after a sparkler set her dress on fire. He also said two young boys received second- and third-degree burns to their arms when a bottle rocket they were playing with exploded before burning down a garage. And there are many more such stories.
In 2001, there were more than 9,500 fireworks-related injuries, four fatalities and approximately $15.6 million in direct property damage, according to Dean. "These accidents occur in a second and the luxury of intervening before serious permanent harm is done is pure fantasy," he said.
Yet, people continue to smuggle illegal fireworks into the state and the State Fire Marshal's Office continues to confiscate them, according to Dean. It has become such an issue with his department that a fireworks and ammunition disposal trailer has been ordered to burn the items, he said. The millennium change seems to have brought renewed interest in fireworks, he said. "We've seen a pretty dramatic increase in shows," he said, since then.
From June through September, about 100 fireworks shows have been approved by the state office. These include July 3 shows in Dexter, Bethel, Presque Isle, Islesboro, Jonesport and Bridgton, and July 4 shows in Bar Harbor, Otis, Limestone, Limington, Madawaska, Millinocket, Naples, Houlton, Jackman, Bingham, Castine and Greenville.
These shows are costly for communities, but at least one town has a generous benefactor. In Greenville, the owner of Evergreen Estates and Farm has once again offered to contribute to the fireworks show but has asked this time that the town use larger shells. Town officials have raised $3,500 for fireworks and Evergreen has offered to donate an additional $6,500 provided the town switch from the traditional 6-inch or smaller shells to 8- to 12-inch shells.
Investigator Scott Richardson of the State Fire Marshal's Office said Friday the town could not discharge shells larger than 6 inches from the barge used in past years on Moosehead Lake for safety reasons. The larger shells could be used if the town found another site acceptable to the fire marshal's office, he said.
Town officials are working with the state office and Evergreen to find a solution.
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