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Dave Roepke, Published June 26 2010

Bottle rockets off the shelves in North Dakota

Customers looking for a bundle of bottle rockets are about to run into a dud.

The fireworks season for in-state North Dakota sales begins on Sunday, the first since a state law went into effect last year banning the sale of the popular rocket-on-a-stick.

“It’ll be a hot topic,” said Tollef Olson, manager of TNT Fireworks in Frontier, N.D. “I’ll explain it over and over again.”

Owners and managers of local fireworks stores said they don’t expect a lack of the cheap mini-rockets to blast too big a hole in their bottom lines.

Based on the reaction of out-of-state residents – the only sales allowed in North Dakota outside the nine-day stretch from June 27 to July 5 – the new law will mostly be perplexing, said Brad Schmitz, co-owner of Black Powder Fireworks in West Fargo.

“From a business perspective, it affects you a little bit,” he said. “People are more shocked than anything because nobody really knows about it.”

Olson said bottle rockets are more of a side dish than the main course, so boom-lovers are still buying.

“Bottle rockets aren’t going to make and break us,” he said.

Despite a minimal impact on profit, there’s a movement in the industry to put the law to a public vote. A petition drive aiming to get the bottle-rocket law on the ballot this fall will have signature forms available in many fireworks stands across the state, said one of the petition’s organizers.

LuAnn Moore, owner of Blu Fireworks in Barney, N.D., said they need 12,844 signatures from residents of North Dakota to force the referendum. The deadline to submit the petitions is Aug. 4, she said.

Moore said that like the local fireworks dealers, she’s not worried about the financial impact of being unable to sell the rockets. Her objection is that the bottle-rocket ban could lead to further limits on fireworks or even guns.

She also thinks it’s unfair to retailers that the law is a prohibition only on selling bottle rockets – possessing, buying and using them is still allowed.

“It’s a dumb law,” Moore said. “It makes no sense.”

Schmitz said one of the quirks of the law is it only applies to small skyrockets, ones with casings less than 5/8 of an inch wide and 3½ inches long.

“So I’ve got stick rockets that are double the size of bottle rockets that are perfectly legal,” he said.

Fireworks safety tips

Here are some tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety and the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Read and follow directions.

  • Buy from reliable sellers only.

  • Don’t light fireworks and drink.

  • Use a punk for all products other than sparklers.

  • Never point fireworks at a person.

  • Don’t light fireworks while they are in a metal or glass container.

  • Dispose of fireworks by soaking them in water.

  • An adult should always be present, and young children shouldn’t handle fireworks.

  • Store fireworks in a cool, dry place in their original packaging.

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535