It's that time of year again. Time for BBQ's, get together's and fireworks! Ahh, I love the sound of the shells as they leave the mortars.. the smell of the powder..  I'm probably more into the sounds and smells of shooting fireworks than I am the patterns and shapes and pretty colors they produce when they explode. Most of the time, I'm right below the fireworks firing them off so I don't get to enjoy the sights of the show until we watch the video afterwards. Anytime you're dealing with explosives though, there are dangers and it's important to respect the fact that even a small firework can cause serious damage.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety reports that there were over 9800 injuries last year from fireworks. I firmly believe the majority of these could be avoided if people would be more responsible shooting them. Here are some of the best ways I know to limit the dangers associated with shooting fireworks.

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to fireworks is parents who buy their kids a bag of fireworks and then let them go of and shoot them unsupervised.. You might as well be handing your kids a loaded gun and letting them play with it. Parents, I beg of you.. please don't do this!! Even a seemingly harmless sparkler (which burns at a temperature of 2000 degrees) can cause serious burn injuries if not handled properly. Children have NO business handling fireworks unsupervised. Need I remind you that we had a teenager KILLED in this area a few years back due to being shot in the head with an artillery shell?

In case you haven't noticed, it hasn't rained around here much lately and the fire danger is extremely high right now. Many groups are encouraging people not to shoot off fireworks at all due to the dry conditions in the area, which is probably not a bad idea, but if you do decide to shoot fireworks at least take the time to take the necessary precautions.

One of the best ways to limit the fire danger would be to limit the number of people shooting fireworks in your area. I would encourage people to get with their neighbors, friends, family, etc and pool their resources together to put on one organized show rather than everybody in the neighborhood doing their own thing. One organized and carefully planned out show is better than 10 random shows going on at once and you get a lot more bang for your buck.

We usually shoot our yearly show off in a field behind my parents house. This isn't the first year the ground has been dry prior to our shoot, so we usually run sprinklers out there for a week or so leading up to the shoot. The day of, we soak everything around our shoot area. The trees, the bushes, everything. We soak the area and soak it good.

During the shoot, it's important to have a water hose ready if needed. Make sure you have enough hose to reach a good 50-60 feet away from where you're shooting off your fireworks. A couple of buckets filled with water as a stand by is a good idea as well.

Shoot them straight up! Don't fire rockets, artillery shells, etc into bushes or wooded areas. Even if you have soaked the area down, it's still not a good idea. If you do shoot them up at an angle, make sure you know where the shell is going to land and that there are no trees in the shells path. Depending on the type of shell you're shooting and mortar height, artillery shells will travel anywhere from 40 to over one hundred feet from where they are shot, so make sure you have a clear path for them to travel!

If you're going to put on a fireworks show, you should designate an area to shoot from and keep spectators (especially children) away from that area... If you're shooting artillery or cakes (those multi-shell fireworks), you should have at least a 75-100 foot buffer zone. I've been underneath a shell that exploded prematurely (a SIX INCH shell.. WOW! DUCK AND COVER!!!!).. I've seen the damage a cheap 1 inch shell can do to a heavy duty HDPE mortar.. Those babies can cause some SERIOUS DAMAGE!! If you shoot fireworks close to your audience, especially artillery or large cakes, sooner or later you will injure somebody..

Here's just a small example of WHY you should have a buffer zone.

NEVER shoot artillery shells from PVC pipe.. Use the pipes that come with the shells, or you can order HDPE (High Density Polyurethane) pre-cut mortars online and build your own boxes (see below). If a shell were to explode inside of a PVC pipe, the pipe will explode and send pieces of shrapnel flying through the air.. don't risk it!!!

NEVER hold a mortar in your hand and shoot a shell out of it.. Even the smallest of artillery shells can cause serious damage if it explodes prematurely..

If you use the tubes that come with the shells, use bricks or rocks to hold them steady when the shell is fired.. these tubes can and will tip over.. Even with custom built boxes, I would anchor them down by driving a stake into the ground on each end of the box and tying the box to them. Actually, EVERY firework you fire off should be anchored or blocked up or secured in some way to prevent them from tipping over.. I even make custom boxes to shoot roman candles from and anchor them down.. yes, even a roman candle can cause serious injury..

Use the right size tubes to shoot your shells from.. The shell should slide into the tube freely with a minimal gap between the shell and the inside of the tube.. if your tube is too large, the shell will not be able to lift out of the tube with enough velocity to get it very high off the ground.. if your tube is too small, the shell can get lodged inside the tube and explode inside of it causing damage to your tube and possibly to you and anyone else around it..

Keep fireworks covered during the shoot until you're ready to shoot them. More than once I've seen fireworks ignited due to falling (burning) debris.

Holding a bottle rocket in your hand and lighting it is a BAD idea.. ER's treat injuries from this yearly.. That's a firework that, IMO, should be done away with completely.. firecrackers should never be lit in your hand either.. The fuses I use to wire my fireworks together burn at very consistent speeds.. the fuses used in firecrackers or bottle rockets could burn fast.. or slow.. depending on several factors, and you have no way of knowing how fast that fuse will burn.. again, don't risk it!

When lighting ANY firework don't put your face (or any other part of your body) over it. Light it with your body leaning AWAY from the firework and get back from it quickly. Even a seemingly harmless fountain can severely burn you. There is NO such thing as a "safe" firework.

Bottom line, PLEASE exercise extreme caution when using fireworks and respect the damage that they can do.

By the way, I'll be out at Spectacular Fireworks on 7th street on July 4th from 6-8pm so come by and get some great deals on fireworks (that you're going to shoot safely.. right?).

Have a SAFE and happy Fourth of July weekend!