One dead in fireworks incident in Pennsylvania

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In this photo illustration a woman holds a burning matchstick and fireworks. (Photo illustration by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

SCRANTON, Pa. (WBRE)One person is dead after an incident involving fireworks Saturday in eastern Pennsylvania.

Police tell WBRE they responded to an incident Saturday afternoon in Scranton for an “injury from fireworks.”

Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano confirmed that one man died as a result of the incident. That individual’s name and other circumstances of the incident have not yet been released.

Earlier this week, experts said they expect the business of fireworks to boom amid the current pandemic. Early figures show some retailers reporting 200% increases from the same time last year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

“Sales are off the hook right now. We’re seeing this anomaly in use,” said Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. “What’s concerning to us is this usage in cities where consumer fireworks are not legal to use.”

Officials have the same concern.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said there are too many reports of fireworks being set off across the state, where they are mostly illegal.

“This is no way to blow off steam,” he told reporters Tuesday in Trenton, the capital.

New Jersey outlaws pyrotechnics except for sparklers and snakes, which produce smoke but don’t explode, though residents have easy access to fireworks at shops in Pennsylvania.

In Morrisville, Pennsylvania, Trenton’s neighbor, a big shop sits at the foot of the bridge leading to New Jersey. On Tuesday, the parking lot was nearly full, with cars primarily from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but others from New York, North Carolina and even Texas.

Officials in Oakland, California, say they have received more complaints of illegal fireworks and reports of celebratory gunfire this year than is typical before the Fourth of July. At least five fires have been linked to fireworks since late May, officials said.

In Denver, authorities seized up to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of illegal fireworks discovered during a traffic stop this week.

Theories abound for why fireworks have gotten so popular.

Some speculate on social media that police are either setting them off themselves or giving them to local teens in hopes people blame those protesting racist policing. Another claim says police are just harassing communities of color.

“I’ve heard a lot of conspiracy theories, and none of them are based in logic or data or facts,” said Tockstein, owner of Pyrotechnic Innovations, a California-based company that trains fireworks professionals.

“Fireworks are used across the entire country for a full month leading up to the Fourth of July,” he said. “There is a slight uptick, but I don’t think it’s anything more than people are stuck at home and hey, look, fireworks are available.”

One theory that can probably be blown up: organizers of canceled Fourth of July events passing surplus products to recreational users.

“Nothing could be further from the truth in that regard,” Heckman said, “because that would be a felony.”

Those who sell professional fireworks, which are much more dangerous for amateurs to fire, need licenses from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and goods are housed in secure facilities, often guarded.

“It’s like the Fort Knox of fireworks,” said Larry Farnsworth, a spokesman for the National Fireworks Association.

Retail use falls under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The fireworks Heckman is seeing aren’t professional. Retail aerial fireworks are capped at under 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter and burst at just under 200 feet (60 meters). Professional fireworks are wider and can explode hundreds of feet higher.

Still, they can be a bother at any height for young children, pets and veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In Hartford, Connecticut, police say they have been responding to up to 200 complaints a day. Connecticut allows only fireworks that don’t explode or launch into the air, but they’re legal a drive away in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia has some restrictions on fireworks and warned of their dangers this week after a number of complaints.

“We understand the absence of in-person festivals may cause some to crave the excitement of an enormous fireworks display over the river. But the simple fact is that these are extremely dangerous products, and the risks far outweigh the momentary excitement of the explosions,” city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.

The light shows could last a while longer. Many pop-up seasonal stores only opened this week. Tockstein predicts more people will buy fireworks in the coming weeks as they realize traditional July 4 displays won’t happen.

“I think with all these public events being canceled, more families will bring the celebration home for the Fourth of July,” Heckman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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