‘I could see straight through my hand:' COVID-19 sparks boom in fireworks sales, ignites worry over injuries

Americans turn to home fireworks displays as coronavirus pandemic cancels shows

The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping most people home this Independence Day weekend and canceling many beloved fireworks shows, but it hasn’t seemed to put a damper on America’s patriotic spirit or love of lighting off almost-too-big-to-handle bottle rockets in the backyard.

Retailers across the U.S. have doubled or tripled their firework sales in the past month compared to last year’s numbers, as many turn to backyard extravaganzas to fill the void in Fourth of July activities, according to CNN.

CNN reported that last year, more than 7,000 people reported injuries related to fireworks around the Fourth of July period, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. And this year, sales have skyrocketed.

Orlando Health conducted a survey and found that more than two in five Americans plan to buy fireworks this year, including 16% who say their purchases are a direct result of COVID-19 cancellations.

Stephen Smith is the owner of Sky King Fireworks in Longwood and said it's been busy ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. Smith said COVID-19 is playing a huge part in his sales.

“Being quarantined and no public shows everybody wants to celebrate so people are buying fireworks, so it’s been a great year for us so far this year,” Smith said.

Trevor Keys was shopping around at Sky King Fireworks on Friday and said he's going to be extra careful this holiday weekend.

“Honestly it’s my girlfriend, I don’t really like fireworks that much but I’m doing it for her and especially last year almost blowing my hand off yeah... no I don’t like fireworks that much,” Keys said

Many fireworks shows around the country have been canceled because of the pandemic. Health officials are concerned there will be a spike in fireworks-related injuries with people putting on their own displays. Here’s a look at some fireworks safety tips.

“You have more inherent risk of people getting bigger and better fireworks than they usually acquire for themselves because there’s not going to be large aerial shows,” said Elizabeth Gibson, MD, an orthopedic surgery resident at Orlando Health. “They may try to take it upon themselves to have the best fireworks show in the neighborhood or the best fireworks show that their family has ever put on and a lot of people don’t realize just how dangerous these fireworks are until they sustain a life-changing injury.”

Health experts warn that even seemingly harmless products, like sparklers, can quickly turn dangerous. Some fireworks can burn up to 2,000 degrees, which is hot enough to melt metal and certainly hot enough to burn through skin and other tissues, experts with Orlando Health said.

Experts agree that any at-home firework use should be kept to small novelties that don’t leave the ground, but if you feel the need to send some colourful sparks flying, you should at least follow safety guidelines to limit the risk of injury as best possible:

  • Never hold a firework in your hand after it’s been lit
  • Do not reach in to check fireworks if they don’t go off. Instead, douse them with water
  • Keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby in case of any mishaps
  • Do not allow children to access or light fireworks, and supervise use of acceptable products for children like sparklers
  • Stay sober, most fireworks injuries involve the use of alcohol or drugs

Josh Baker recounted how quickly firework accidents happen. He lost a thumb after he reached in to adjust a fireworks mortar that had tipped toward onlookers while he and his neighbors put on display in Sanford.

”I just remember it went off and I looked down and could see straight through my hand,” Baker said. ”Ultimately, I’m lucky all I lost was my thumb. If I had leaned in a little more or turned my head a different way, I might have never left the dock that day.”

Baker told Orlando Health he had surgery to remove his big toe and attach it to his hand where his thumb once was, and as a firefighter, he sees similar injuries happen to those in the community he serves.

”Every year I brace for those calls around certain holidays like New Year’s Eve and July Fourth, and every year, without fail, there are people who lose some fingers or a hand,” Baker said. “I think its something you have to have a healthy respect for. It may seem like a lot of fun, but fireworks are dangerous explosives and people need to be extremely cautious when using them.”

Another safety risk is hand sanitizer.

You’ve probably been using it en masse recently to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but experts say that hand sanitizer and fireworks are an incredibly dangerous mix.

“Alcohol and fire do not mix,” National Safety Council spokeswoman Maureen Vogel told CNN during an interview. “You shouldn’t pair flammable items; it’s the proverbial recipe for disaster.”

Your best bet is to forego the hand sanitizer while handling fireworks and to use the tried-and-true method of just washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

About the Authors:

Erin began her career at News 6 as an assignment editor, then became a show producer. She is now a digital storyteller as part of the Click Orlando team.

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!