When Catherine McConnell of Lyman stopped by Atlas PyroVision in Scarborough, she had a shopping list.

“We went online and looked at all their videos and voted on which ones to get,” she said. She went with the always popular Festival of Fireworks assortment, as well as Black Mamba mortars and several other varieties of fireworks to shoot off at the lake house on Lake Arrowhead where her family and friends gather each Fourth of July weekend.

“We like to put on a weekend-long display.”

A similarly lavish display quickly adds up to hundreds of dollars, and Maine fireworks vendors say they’re seeing brisk sales as the holiday nears. They’re hopeful that will be enough to rebound from a drop in sales last year.

Sales tax figures collected by the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services show that, after better than expected sales in 2012-13 – the first year consumer fireworks were legal in the state – sales dropped off 28 percent last year.

A similar drop took place in sales nationally, although not as extreme as the drop in Maine. National sales of fireworks in 2013 by weight was off by 12 percent from the year before, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

In Maine, vendors and observers say the July 4, 2012, holiday period was a bonanza because it was the first chance for many people to legally buy and set off fireworks in the state. The state’s Department of Revenue predicted conservative sales tax revenue from fireworks at $125,000. Instead, people bought $7.6 million in fireworks, three times as many as forecast. Sales tax revenue came in at $380,000.

But by the following year, the novelty of fireworks had worn off for some people, and many towns moved quickly to pass local ordinances to regulate or, in some cases, prohibit use of consumer fireworks.

“It’s noise, trash and dangerous behavior,” said Saco Police Chief Brad Paul, whose community banned consumer fireworks, in part because homes are located so close together. Fireworks complaints jumped from two dozen on the Fourth of July holiday before 2012, to 200 after they were made legal, he said.

“Officers witnessed fireworks going off errantly. We had one tear through a crowd and bounce off a cottage. I don’t know how someone wasn’t injured,” he said. “It seemed tremendously unregulated and just way over the top… alcohol and explosives, what could go wrong?”

This year, Saco police have the additional authority to issue citations to property owners, since tracking down whoever lit the fuse on a firework can be difficult, he said.

Sales dropped to $5.5 million last year but Jessie Moore, a Phantom Fireworks corporate representative working at the Scarborough store, believes sales are on the upswing again.

“Today we’ve been steady and some periods we’ve been getting slammed,” she said Wednesday. “On the 1st (of July) it just changes to another level and then on the 3rd, it goes into a gear nobody knows at all.”

Moore said 85 to 90 percent of the fireworks sales in the Northeast come around July 4. In southern states, New Year’s Eve is a big fireworks holiday too, but that’s less true in the north.

This year, colors are in for the discerning fireworks shopper.

“They want to see the show more than the noise right now – really good colors, really high, big breaks,” Moore said. “A lot of new items are all about looking pretty.” \

As customers grow more experienced, they seem more comfortable with larger displays, which also leads to bigger sales, she said.

The state does not track, nor does it have a good count, on the number of people in Maine who have been hurt by consumer fireworks since they were legalized in 2012.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said there has been no requirement for such injuries to be reported to his office. Legislation that would have required medical personnel to report all burn injuries to the state died in the last legislative session. In prior years, reporting has been voluntary and many such injuries were not reported at all, he said.

Since January, a working group of hospitals, emergency medical services and the Office of the State Fire Marshal have been cooperating to gather that data. The information can then be used to determine trends and target education and safety initiatives, Thomas said.

In 2012, 19 fireworks injuries were reported by Maine hospitals, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Thomas said he did not have a number on last year’s injuries. Since emergency medical providers started reporting all burn injuries in January, there have been three fireworks-related injuries, he said.

Officials at Southern Maine Health Care, Mercy Hospital, Central Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center were unable to give figures Wednesday on the number of people coming to their emergency departments with fireworks-related injuries. A message left with Maine Medical Center was not returned.

Nationally, there were 11,400 injuries reported by hospitals in 2013 that involved fireworks, according to a report issued last month by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. About two thirds of them occurred in the month between June 21 and July 21. The report said the number of injuries has remained largely constant over the last 15 years.

Although the national numbers are collected from hospitals in each state, a spokeswoman for CPSC said the federal agency did not have a state-by-state breakdown of fireworks injuries.

During the month around July 4, 2013 there were 2,300 injuries caused by sparklers, 800 involving firecrackers and 300 caused by bottle rockets, the study said. Most often, the injuries were to hands and fingers, followed by head and face, then eyes, then legs.

The American Pyrotechnics Association says the number of fireworks injuries dropped to 8,600 in 2012 after climbing to 9,600 the year before, although the rate of injuries compared to the amount of fireworks set off has remained constant, at about four injuries for every 100,000 pounds used.

McConnell said her friends and family at Lake Arrowhead are almost all adults and are careful with the pyrotechnics. They wear safety glasses when lighting fireworks and make sure viewers stand a good distance away.

“Nobody wants to drive to the hospital in the middle of Fourth of July night,” she said.


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