Wyoming is big sky country, and there are few things its residents enjoy more than lighting that sky on fire in celebration of Independence Day.
From the whiz-pop of bottle rockets to the glorious starbursts of artillery shells, fireworks are a time-honored tradition in the Cowboy State for the young and old alike.
“The kids love the swords, sparklers and snappers,” said Ben Laws, a manager at Pyro City, which has locations in Cheyenne and Evanston. “And the dad’s are definitely are looking for those artillery shells. Everything is selling.”
Laws said rather than seeing one brand outsell another this year, he noticed customers were changing the types of fireworks they buy.
“A lot of people want to move over to the ‘cake’ items, which allow you to light one fuse, and a whole barrage goes off,” he said.
Over at Fireworks Outlet, which has locations in Laramie, Cheyenne, Buford, Gillette, Rock Springs and Glenrock, General Manager Skyler Krehbiel said kids are purchasing more multi-purpose novelty items.
“The old cardboard tanks are now plastic, and kids are buying up anything that can be used as a toy after,” Krehbiel said. “Backpacks are a big one this year.”
With options for blue trim or pink trim, the backpacks come stocked with smoke balls, snakes, ground boomers, waterproof firecrackers and other assorted items for children around the ages of 10 to 12, he said.
“We’re also selling a lot of kids’ packets for younger kids with snappers, a couple smoke grenades and party poppers,” Krehbiel added. “It definitely saves money buying this in a package, rather than grabbing the items individually.”
The older crowd, on the other hand, are shopping for items with a little more oomph than a pack of snappers.
“For adults, we have our brand new 5-inch cannon shells, which are 1-and-three-quarter inches in diameter and 5 inches long. You can fit larger stars in the longer shells, and people are really looking for the biggest stars they can get.”
“Don’t blow your hand off, kid” may not be as iconic a warning as “A Christmas Story’s” “You’ll shoot your eye out,” but it’s likely repeated by parents in Wyoming as often each year — if not more often.
As sound as the advice is, it does little to educate children or adults as to the best method of keeping all their digits intact. And education could be the key ingredient to reducing fireworks mishaps, Krehbiel said.
“When you go out to the shooting range, you have an instructor teaching you the proper way to handle a firearm, and in some ways, I wish fireworks were the same,” he explained. “When everyone walks in my stores, I make sure to provide them as much education as I can.”
Krehbiel said he fields a lot of questions like “are Roman Candles the ones you hold in your hand?”
“You don’t ever want to hold fireworks in your hand,” he said. “Roman Candles are designed to shoot straight into the air and should be positioned to do so from the ground.”
People shouldn’t mix alcohol use and fireworks, Krehbiel added. Read and follow the instructions on the package and spend time teaching children safe practices, he said. At Pyro City, Laws said fireworks enthusiasts should keep water nearby.
“People need to have buckets of water or a garden hose nearby,” he said. “A big thing is kids need adult supervision when using fireworks — that’s one I tell people all the time.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, about 13,000 people are treated annually for fireworks-related burns, while fires resulting from fireworks cause more than $20 million in direct property damage each year.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Fire Administration advise attending professional fireworks displays rather than lighting fireworks personally.
If people plan to shoot off their own fireworks in the Cheyenne area, Laws said Pyro City partnered with Phantom Fireworks and USA Fireworks to provide a free and safe launchpad at 2275 W. College Dr.
Only fireworks purchased at one of the three fireworks chains are permitted at the site, which is open 8 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and first responders will be on site to deal with any mishaps, he said.
Fireworks regulations vary across the state, so check with the local fire district before lighting off your own.
For more information about fireworks safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association website.