VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It takes only seconds for a fire to start, and fireworks handled incorrectly are one way for fires to get going.
With fireworks shows at the Oceanfront and Mount Trashmore canceled to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Virginia Beach officials are worried that more more people than usual may try to stage their own displays.
Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Art Kohn said, "We're very concerned about the potential for a tragedy this weekend if people are using these fireworks."
Like many cities in Hampton Roads, the use of fireworks and sparklers without a permit is considered illegal in Virginia Beach. Permits are possible to get, but are mainly reserved for big events.
Already, dispatch centers are fielding an influx of phone calls about backyard fireworks.
Even though fireworks are illegal in Virginia, officials say they saw a 72 percent increase in the number of calls coming into dispatchers, between May and June, reporting fireworks in a neighborhood.
That’s compared to the same time last year.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2018, firework displays caused $105 million in direct property damage. That year, fireworks started 19,500 fires across the country, leading to five deaths.
The national association warned against taking fireworks into your own hands, saying it could unnecessarily burden emergency response teams that are already hard at work fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Kohn said firefighters don't want to ruin people's fun, but they want everyone to listen to them and to consider the dangers that exist.
“I guarantee most of our firefighters enjoy a good firework show just as much as anybody else," he said. "We are disappointed that we won’t have the shows this year either. But again, the numbers show that there is danger there. So we want people stay safe.”
Kohn added, “These fireworks are dangerous no matter how benign they may seem.”
During the demonstration, firefighters showed a sparkler touching a hot dog, which only took about a minute to cause burns, like the ones someone could experience on their skin. Then they used a melon to simulate a hand holding a firecracker, which exploded so quickly a firefighter had to run.
“That was a wake-up call," said Virginia Beach Police spokeswoman Linda Kuehn.
She said that fireworks in Virginia could result in someone getting a class one misdemeanor. So, they want people in the community to listen now instead of potentially spending a year in jail.
“Please don’t (use fireworks), watch them on TV. I have seen that there are places that are doing virtual fireworks," said Kuehn.