“It’s a time to create great memories,” said Ginger Bunn, owner of Anytime Fireworks in Alexandria.
Bunn, who opened the store in memory of her sister, Lisa Simmons, also stressed the importance of safety.
“My sister and I had a troubled childhood,” said Bunn. “We looked forward to the firework shows every year; they are some of our best memories together.”
Simmons, she said, wanted to bring others the joy she felt at firework displays. To accomplish that, Simmons pursued a pyrotechnic license that would allow her to coordinate shows. On July 4, 2009, she was doing just that — setting up a show in Ocracoke, N.C. — when she lost her life after a truckload of fireworks exploded. Simmons was among a group of four crew members killed in the explosion.
“I made a promise that day that our memories would live on,” said Bunn, “that her dreams would live on. That’s why my boys and I are doing this, to help share those smiles and make sure her spirit lives on.”
Although Bunn acknowledges that her sister’s death was the result of what she refers to as “freak accident,” she said she reminds her customers of proper handling techniques every time she makes a sale.
“We explain that even with small items, like ground spinners, its important to light and throw, to get rid of them quickly,” said Bunn. “We remind people to not keep fireworks in their trucks or leave them out in the sunlight, but instead keep them inside their car cabin where the air conditioning is running. It’s the little reminders—we share those with people who have little experience with fireworks or don’t realize certain dangers.”
This year, with parts of Calhoun County under “moderate” to “severe” drought levels according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, safety also includes paying extra attention to conditions and surroundings.
Rain did soak parts of Calhoun County late Sunday afternoon as part of a fierce little thunderstorm that blew through, but fireworks users in the next couple of days should still take note of how dry the ground and vegetation are in the area where they're igniting fuses.
“We advise people that they wet the area down where they will be shooting them off,” said Bunn. “It’s also a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher or hose nearby.”
Jim Pirkle, a manager at Fireworks City in Heflin, said the dry weather is one of the factors affecting his sales.
“A lot of people won’t shoot them off if they think they might start a fire,” Pirkle said. “Of course, there are some people who don’t care one way or the other, but for the most part, people are cautious in this type of weather.”
Several of his customers, Pirkle said, have told him that they plan on heading down to the coast or to area lakes to set off larger aerial fireworks. Pirkle said that unless they are specifically told not to sell certain products, the store operates with the understanding that it is up to individual customers to handle fireworks properly.
“We ask people to follow safety precautions,” said Pirkle. “These things are not toys to be taken lightly.”
Brandi Jones, a saleswoman at Papa Joe’s Discount Fireworks in Eastaboga, said responsible fireworks retailers keep an eye on the weather, drought conditions and warnings from state officials.
“We are completely honest with our customers,” said Jones. “We tell them when conditions are considered dangerous for explosions and fires; it makes the experience better for everyone. Fireworks are great, if you do them right.”
Currently, there are no restrictions limiting the use of fireworks, but state officials urge precaution.
“Each individual is the best judge of how dry it is at their own home,” said Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Forestry Commission. “We are telling people to take extra precautions: have a water supply nearby, light fireworks in a gravel lot or on pavement, and to make sure that any type of aerial firework is set off either over water or away from any type of dry foliage.”
Vansant also stressed the importance of making sure outdoor grills and campfires, popular around the July 4 holiday, are put out properly. Coals should be cold to the touch and campfires should be doused down.
“We ask that people remain especially aware of their surroundings until we get a little bit more rainfall,” Vansant said.