Facing off with fireworks

Or how to abuse your summer intern by having her light cheap incendiary devices

Kate Schwenke, an intern at The Daily Sentinel, holds a sparkler, flinches from the noise made by a Carousel Fountain and, far below, braces for confetti raining down from a Popper.



This arsenal of fireworks provides a swell old time on the Fourth of July for about $20.



QUICKREAD

Prefer to leave it

to the experts?

• Fruita’s annual fireworks display starts at dusk tonight at Snooks Bottom Open Space Park. Parking is restricted, and fireworks enthusiasts can watch from the Kokopelli Shopping Center, the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals parking lot behind the LaQuinta Hotel, the Fruita Co-op Country parking lot or at a local park.

• Grand Junction’s annual fireworks show starts at about 9:45 p.m. on July Fourth. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and set up in Lincoln Park to watch the dazzling display. Stocker Stadium will not be open, because of construction at the stadium, and there is no charge this year.



In almost any other job setting, interns are asked to fetch coffee or sharpen pencils and then go home satisfied with a job well done. Luckily for this intern, things get a bit spicier at The Daily Sentinel.

I was asked to risk life and limb in the name of good journalism. I could have respectfully declined, but I answered the call of duty because you, the reader, deserve to know the truth. You deserve to know which fireworks to buy with your hard-earned dollar. So here you go, America. Here’s my review of the cheapest fireworks available, rated on a scale from one to five Sparklers.

SNAKES: Snakes have always been one of my favorite “fireworks.” Maybe it’s because it was the only thing my dad would allow his pyromaniacal daughter to light on fire as a child, or maybe because they aren’t full of surprises that send you sprinting for cover. Either way, Snakes have me giggling like a little schoolgirl. The down side: They come in little pellets, take awhile to light and don’t stay lit for long. Also, don’t be fooled by packaging titles like “colored Snakes” or “magical colored Snakes.” All you will ever get from these little pellets are fragile gray ropes twisting out of themselves. However, if watching chains of ash squirm around on the ground excites you, Snakes are a must-have.

Rating: 1 Sparkler

POP-ITS: Question: What could possibly be more exciting than miniscule balls of paper full of explosive material that burst with a bang upon hitting the ground? Answer: Everything. Nevertheless, Pop-its have always been a staple of my Independence Day celebrations. They bring forth a bit of nostalgia, and throwing handfuls of them on the ground is entertaining. If your target audience is a group of preschoolers or wistful teenagers such as myself, Pop-its are sure to be “pop”-ular. (I apologize for the terrible pun.) On a more serious note, please do not imitate Daily Sentinel sportswriter Pat Bahr and throw Pop-its at people.

Rating: 1 1/2 Sparklers

POPPERS: These are by far the worst invention mankind has ever created, and for two reasons: 1) They don’t light on fire. 2) There is something inherently wrong with a product designed to produce a mini-explosion mere inches away from your hand. I will be the first to admit that I am afraid of Poppers. I don’t like the fact that I can’t light a fuse and run for cover, but rather must induce the instantaneous explosion by pulling a string. Also, unless you get high-quality Poppers, the confetti inside usually clumps together to produce a ball of paper instead of a multi-colored confetti shower. The only thing Poppers are good for are, well, to get rid of your fear of Poppers. (Trust me, I speak from personal experience.)

Rating: 1 Sparkler

BLASTS: If you’re looking for something that packs a punch, check out Blasts. These little firecrackers should not be lit near people or buildings, and once you see the fuse sparking, you may want to move a few feet away to enjoy the short-lived show. (Using a senior reporter as a human shield like I did works, too.) These little grenades of fun spark, pop and ultimately explode, all in about two seconds. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Rating: 2 Sparklers

GROUND BLOOM

FLOWERS: I have no idea how these fireworks got their name because they don’t resemble flowers and they don’t “bloom” in any sense of the word. I think these little tubes are supposed to whiz and whir as they spin in circles, releasing colorful bursts of light as they go, but none of these things happened for me. The most interesting part of these little devices was watching the fuse burn. They may have been more spectacular on flat ground instead of gravel, however, so I blame user error for their lack of a worthwhile show.

Rating: 2 sparklers

LIGHTNING FLASH: These little buggers live up to their name. You may want to grab a pair of extremely dark sunglasses before lighting these babies on fire, otherwise you’ll be seeing spots for some time afterward. These dime-sized gems produce blinding flares, and the show lasts for more than a few seconds. If you drop a prized possession on the Fourth of July, you could stop using your cellphone as a flashlight and use a Lightning Flash to look for it instead. Yeah, they’re that bright.

Rating: 3 sparklers

SPARKLERS: Nothing screams Fourth of July quite like a flammable stick that burns at temperatures near 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and comes dangerously close to burning the flesh off your hand. Nevertheless, lighting a Sparkler is a fun and mostly innocuous way to celebrate the holiday. Just watch out as the Sparkler races down the stick toward your hand, as the shower of sparks it emits can land on your fingers. But it’s only mildly painful. I promise.

Rating: 3 1/2 Sparklers (or as many as you can hold)

CRACKLING JUMPING JACK: These little beauties are well-worth their 50-cent price tag. Resembling red golf pencils on a string, Crackling Jumping Jacks are quite the delight. They snap, crackle and pop more than a bowl full of Rice Krispies, and at a louder decibel, too. My only complaint: I didn’t know you had to unwrap the tissue paper to get to the fuse. (And for those of you wondering, yes, I am a blonde.)

Rating: 4 Sparklers

CAROUSEL FOUNTAIN: I just lit the granddaddy of ‘em all on fire. Don’t worry, the college football Rose Bowl game will go on as planned this year. I’m talking about the granddaddy of all cheap fireworks: the Carousel. As this fountain emitted showers of sparks, this intern emitted praises of “oohs” and “aahs.” It was a spectacular sight. I could go into more detail about the colorful light show, or you could go spend a dollar on a Carousel Fountain and enjoy the show for yourself.

Rating: 5 Sparklers

So there you go, folks. All you need to have some cheap, legal fun this Fourth of July is some inexpensive fireworks, a lighter and a lot of common sense. Maybe a newsroom full of senior reporters egging you on to light more stuff on fire wouldn’t hurt, either.

Safety first:

Fireworks are as much a part of Independence Day celebrations as parades and barbecues. However, they should be handled cautiously, safety experts advise.

In 2009 U.S. hospitals treated about 8,800 people for fireworks-related injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and 5,900 of those were during Fourth of July celebrations. Also in 2009, fireworks caused about 18,000 fires, including 1,300 structure fires, and about $38 million in direct property damage, according to the association.

Fireworks, when unmonitored or used in unsafe conditions, can cause a lot of damage, said Duncan Brown, battalion chief of the Grand Junction Fire Department.

“Since it is very dry and it’s been very windy, there are a couple of things people can do to stay safe,” Brown said, advising:

Use fireworks at least 20 feet from any structure, including homes, fences and garages, and in an area that’s clean and clear of weeds, brush and other debris.

Have a pail of water, hose or fire extinguisher near the area where fireworks are being ignited.

Don’t try to relight fireworks that didn’t ignite properly or seem to be “duds.”

Don’t pick up fireworks immediately after they’ve finished igniting; leave them in a pile in a clear area or put them in a metal container and let them cool for a day or two.

Only use fireworks outdoors.

Keep pets inside and in a safe place when igniting fireworks.

Always supervise teenagers using fireworks, and never let young children handle fireworks.

Don’t let young children handle sparklers, which can burn very hot.

Don’t use fireworks that “go up or blow up” — bottle rockets, mortars, Roman candles and others, which are illegal.

Don’t drink alcohol while igniting fireworks.

There currently are no municipal commercial firework bans in western Colorado, but all fireworks are illegal to use on Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service lands.

FIREWORKS FACTS:

In 2010 the U.S. fireworks industry made $952 million in revenue — $316 million from display fireworks and $636 million from consumer fireworks.

In 2009 Americans ignited 213.9 million pounds of fireworks — 182.2 million pounds of consumer fireworks and 31.7 million pounds of display fireworks.

Four states — Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — ban all consumer fireworks, while Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Ohio and Vermont allow only wire or wood stick sparklers and other novelty items, and Arizona allows only novelty items. The other 40 states, plus Washington, D.C., allow some or all types of consumer fireworks.

The Chinese are credited with inventing fireworks by mixing saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal, packing it tightly into a container and using the result to ward off evil spirits. Fireworks’ chemistry has changed little since their invention.

Metal salts added to the firework mixture create colors: barium nitrate makes green, copper salts make blue and strontium nitrate makes red, for example.

The average public fireworks display in America lasts 20 minutes.

Making and setting off fireworks is called “pyrotechnics” and those who set off fireworks are called “pyrotechnicians.”

In Europe during the Renaissance, pyrotechnicians ignited fireworks by lighting tissue paper rolled around trails of gunpowder.

(Sources: American Pyrotechnics Association, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. International Trade Commission, pbs.org)

—————————

In these uncertain economic times, when pennies are pinched and moths fly, cartoon-style, from empty wallets, we struggle to find small joys. Is it too much to ask? For a little light? A little sparkle?

No! It’s our right as Americans to have twinkle and shine! Especially as we celebrate Independence Day, that most fireworks-rific of all our holidays.

But the budget! On this day, of all days, can we justify one of those $650 T.N.T.-brand megapacks of fireworks? Or must we sit, like Poor Pitiful Pauline, on the front stoop while pyromaniacal neighbors all around us have a swell old time? Or is there a middle ground?

What about those cheap fireworks, the ones available at your average grocery store or in buy-one-get-one-free piles in the fireworks tents? Are they any good? Are they any fun? Is it possible to spend less than $20 and have our own swell-old-time?

Well, let’s find out! In the name of research, we bought:

at City Market, a box of 100 Pop-Its, “a fun trick noise maker” ($1); a four-pack of Confetti Candle Party Poppers ($2); and the intriguingly named Party Poppin’ assortment ($5), which included six squat cone Poppers, four tall cone Poppers, six magnum Poppers and one mega magnum Popper.

at Kmart, a six-pack of Sparklers, each box containing five ($2).

at the T.N.T fireworks store at 28 Road and North Avenue, a package of Assorted Color Snakes containing four boxes with five Snakes per box ($3); a six-pack of Blasts ($2); two Crackling Jumping Jack Fireworks (50 cents each); one package of four Ground Bloom Flower ($1); a six-piece box of Lightning Flash ($1); and one Carousel Fountain-style firework ($1).

And not only is it our right as Americans to enjoy fireworks, but it’s our right as Americans to make the intern test them. Yes, here at The Daily Sentinel we’re all about scientific inquiry and risking the intern’s fingers.

But no worries! She’s fine! Good ol’ Kate Schwenke, with her intern-istic derring-do, her bright eyes and (metaphorical) bushy tail. She’s nothing if not a trouper, and she’s young. Her eyebrows will grow back.

Kate, how about those cheap fireworks?

— Rachel Sauer


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