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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 14 2009

Bottle rockets fizzling out soon in North Dakota

The countdown has begun for the final legal sales of bottle rockets in North Dakota.

Shoppers have until Aug. 1 to snap up the little whiz-bangs.

After that, it’s lights out on sales, lawmakers decided earlier this year.

The new law has left some Fargo-area sellers perplexed and unhappy, while buyers are scratching their heads.

At Memory Fireworks on County Road 20, Scott Ailie of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and his friends were buying fireworks Saturday, including a few bottle rockets.

“They’re kind of an institution. We start with bottle rockets, and we work our way up from there,” Ailie said.

Ailie said he was surprised by the coming ban.

“I didn’t think they were that dangerous.”

Brenda Mears, working the Generous Jerry’s stand in Frontier, just south of Fargo’s 52nd Avenue South, said some people are already buying extra to save for future festivities.

“We’ve had a few people that said they’re going to stock up and that they’re going to miss them,” Mears said.

Andrew Ness, 20, a veteran of fireworks sales with six years at TNT Fireworks, said bottle rocket sales have, well, gone up every year.

“It’s a classic firework. Everyone’s been doing them for years,” Ness said.

John Starr, owner of Starr Fireworks, said people don’t get hurt by bottle rockets unless they use them improperly, such as shooting them at others.

“I don’t like the idea of bottle rockets being taken off the market,” Starr said.

“It’s really not right. If fireworks aren’t handled right, they can all be dangerous,” he said.

“We’re hoping to get that (law) repealed,” Starr said.

Most fireworks stands are open now for sales to out-of-state buyers. In the Red River Valley, that means mostly Minnesotans.

Sales to North Dakotans ages 12 and older begin June 27, and end July 5.

The new law doesn’t make it illegal to possess or fire off bottle rockets, unless local ordinances prohibit doing so. Lawmakers were apparently swayed by testimony on eye injuries caused by bottle rockets.

According to the United States Eye Injury Registry, 12,000 Americans are treated annually for fireworks injuries, with 20 percent of them having eye injuries.

USEIR said bottle rockets are by far the greatest cause of eye injury. Between 1990 and 1994, 58 percent of eye injuries from fireworks were tied to bottle rockets, it reported.

Jerry Breyer of Grand Forks, N.D., has sold fireworks for 38 years and owns the Generous Jerry’s stores.

“We were the only ones that put up opposition to it,” Breyer said.

“There’s millions of bottle rockets sold, and there’s very few accidents with them. I could go into the hardware store and pick out dozens of items that you will have more accidents with in a year, but you never hear about them,” Breyer said.

Century Code change

From the 2009 North Dakota Century Code, Chapter 23-15 on fireworks: “A person may not offer to sell or offer to distribute a skyrocket, customarily known as a bottle rocket, if the outside diameter of the casing is less than five-eighths inch (15.975 millimeters) and the length of the casing is less than three and one-half inches (88.9 millimeters).”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583