Fireworks and the celebration of Independence Day goes back to even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
John Adams, in one of his famous letters to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776, said he expected the great Independence Day holiday to be celebrated from coast-to-coast with "bonfires and illuminations."
"That truly was a prophetic letter in the sense that we still celebrate today as John Adams predicted we would with the modern day equivalency of bonfires and illuminations, that being barbecues and fireworks," said William A. Weimer, vice president of Youngstown, Ohio-based B.J. Alan Co., distributor of Phantom Fireworks.
(Photo for the Mirror by Sean Steffy)
Cindy Lytle of Phantom Fireworks prepares her stock for a night of sales in the Kmart parking lot.
Fireworks dealers have geared up for their busiest week of the year.
Each year, fireworks tents and temporary locations pop up throughout the Altoona area manned by representatives of Phantom Fireworks, Kneppy's Fireworks, Keystone Fireworks and TNT Fireworks.
Overall, consumption of fireworks dropped to 186.4 million pounds in 2013, down from 281.5 million pounds in 2005. But revenues grew to $990 million in 2013, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
"In 2012, the industry was hit with a severe drought. There were a lot of burning bans and companies could not sell. They imported less because they were sitting on existing inventories," said APA Executive Director Julie Heckman. "The real story is there has been a lot of growth on the consumer side, backyard consumer fireworks. We have seen a relaxation in fireworks laws. More states are allowing people to use backyard fireworks."
Since 1994, the number of pounds of fireworks imported into the United States has increased by about 70 percent, Weimer said.
The love of fireworks seems to cross generational and socio-economic lines in America, Weimer said.
"Everyone loves to watch fireworks. Much like major league sports, people love to watch professional fireworks, but they also love to shoot their own fireworks just as much. That phenomena accounts for such an increase in the popularity of backyard or consumer fireworks over the past couple decades," Weimer said.
The day of the week on which the Fourth of July falls can have an impact on fireworks sales, said Jack May, owner of Lancaster-based Keystone Fireworks.
"The industry is very sensitive to the day of the week the Fourth falls on. This year it is on Friday, so that is a recipe for a lot of action for the July 4 holiday. We don't do as well if the holiday falls on a Wednesday or Thursday," May said.
Temporary locations, such as the one at 229 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd., is important to Winburne-based Kneppy's Fireworks, said President Joyce Knepp.
"The temporary locations probably make up about 40 percent of my annual business. It is pretty significant for us. Fireworks is what our business is all about. We also see some hard core pyromaniacs who use fireworks all year along," Knepp said.
Because of state laws, Pennsylvania residents are not able to purchase some of the more popular fireworks.
"The most popular items that we sell are aerial items known as Reloadable Mortar Kits and 500 gram Aerial Repeaters," Weimer said.
"Unfortunately, because of the limiting laws in Pennsylvania, residents are prohibited from purchasing these aerial items unless they have received a permit from their local jurisdiction to use them," Weimer said. "Without a permit, Pennsylvania residents are limited to using the ground-based products that primarily consist of fountains that sit on the ground and spew sparks 6 to 10 feet in the air."
Fountains are very popular.
"They are like a different kind of sparklers. They emit different colors and make sounds like whistles and crackles. They can last anywhere from 20 seconds to three minutes and come in many different sizes," Knepp said.
Different people like different items, May said.
"Mothers and children prefer sparklers and novelty items. Folks who are more experienced with fireworks tend to zero in on the larger fountains. We also have a variety of assortments that are a good deal for the novice buyers," May said.
Despite the increased consumer interest, fireworks-related injuries have dropped.
Since 1994 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 12,500 fireworks-related injuries, there has been more than a 30 percent drop in injuries to 8,700 reported by CPSC for 2012.
"This is a pretty impressive set of statistics for the fireworks industry. If you compare injuries to any other consumer product with any risk associated with them such as motorcycles, Jet Skis, trampolines and the like, you will see that as use increases, so do the injuries. This unique phenomena in the fireworks industry of use increasing and injuries decreasing is truly amazing," Weimer said.
The best advice when using fireworks is to use common sense.
"The products must be used and handled by a designated shooter who is a sober adult. Children should not handle the products. You need good, clear, open space in which to use the products. You should shoot from a hard flat surface and have a ready source of water available in the event of an emergency," Weimer said.
Heckman said it is important to obey local laws.
"If consumer fireworks are not legal, please don't use them. Be sure to purchase them from a reliable fireworks dealer, not from the back of a van. Purchase from a legitimate stand, store or establishment that has been inspected," Heckman said. "Read the instructions before use. Use fireworks in an area that is free of dry grass and combustibles. Keep spectators at a safe distance, and have sober, responsible adults in charge of all activities."
Special care should be taken when using sparklers, which can reach a temperature of 1,800 degrees.
"If you have youngsters, do not let them hold them by themselves. Have an adult hold them. Never light fireworks in your hand. When lighting them, stay away a safe distance," Knepp said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.