How To Light Fireworks At Home – Without Getting Dead

Okay so it’s a funny title, and hopefully it “hooked” you, but it’s really no laughing matter. Fireworks are fun and iconic and beautiful and thrilling and it’s undeniable that they’re culturally important to Americans around this time of year. So yay, fireworks! Independence!

Be careful with firecrackers this July 4th. (Photo: KentWeakley/

But fireworks are also dangerous, in a very real way. Thousands and thousands of people are injured every year (over 9,600 individuals from June 2010 to July 2011) with casualties including major burns, loss of fingers and limbs, and even decapitation. Yes, 4 people were killed by fireworks in the same time period mentioned above (June 2010 - July 2011).

So I hope you’ll take your firecrackering very seriously. Should you abstain completely? Of course not! You know, baseball and apple pie and all that Americana goodness. Participate – but please do so conscientiously and carefully (and of course, soberly). Here’s how to make sure your firework fiesta is a safe one:

Keep it legal. Buy only legal fireworks from licensed fireworks vendors. Use said fireworks according to the laws of your state. (I know, the illegal ones are so much cooler. They’re also illegal for a reason.)

Adults only. Fireworks are, you know, FIRE. Children should not participate in the lighting or operation of fireworks. This goes for sparklers, too (I know, so sad).

Sober operators only! Yes, yes, it’s the 4th of July! BBQ! But listen, just like you should have a designated driver, you should designate someone to stay sober until sundown and act as the fireworks operator. Friends don't let drunk relatives light fireworks.

Wear protection - goggles or other eye safety gear. Thousands of contractors, from electricians in Baltimore to roofers in Cincinnati, wear safety goggles every day at work. You won't look like a dork; you'll look like a skilled worker.

Light fireworks in a clear, flat area free of debris or any other flammable material (including other fireworks). Look up – make sure there are no overhead obstructions (like tall trees or telephone wires). Keep a filled bucket, a garden hose, or ideally a fire extinguisher nearby. Think ahead.

Always read the instructions and safety precautions for each type of firework before you light it. They’re all different so you need to read them all. (I know you’ll just skim it but seriously – read it!)

Light one firework at a time. Even if you have multiple sober adults who have all read the safety instructions, only one firework at a time. If a shell fails to ignite, do not lean over to look into the tube. And never try to re-light a dud. Don’t. Do. It.

Always make sure your crowd is giving you enough space. This means a 20-40 feet berth, depending on the firework. Yes, that far. And if a breeze  is blowing, ask people to stand upwind. (But never light fireworks in high winds.) Read the directions and keep the spectators in a safe zone.

And now, Captain Obvious:

DO NOT EVER pick up, point, or throw a a lit firework at another person.

DO NOT EVER attempt to “shoot” fireworks out of a container (other than a proper, professional launch tube of the correct make and size).

Okay, so there you go. Follow these precautions and you’ll keep yourself safe and your partygoers entertained. Happy 4th of July!!!

Sayward Rebhal wrote this for

Updated April 19, 2018.

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