Fourth of July

Southeast DC apartment fire is a reminder not to mess with illegal fireworks: DC fire chief

"Fireworks are dangerous," the DC fire chief said

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Video provided by D.C. Fire and EMS shows what D.C.'s fire chief says are juveniles with illegal fireworks accidentally setting a housing complex on fire.

The fire, which took place earlier this week, quickly spread through about 30 apartments and left 76 people without homes. It's a sober reminder of the danger fireworks bring, ahead of the Fourth of July -- one of the holidays when they're most often used.

"This is a very important message from the fire department to our community: Fireworks are dangerous,” D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John Donnelly said.

D.C. firefighters demonstrated just how quickly that danger can spread on Thursday, showing how illegal fireworks can shoot projectiles that can injure people and start fires.

Mitchell Kannry, D.C.'s fire marshal, urges residents to only buy legal fireworks from licensed dealers and to follow some common sense safety tips.

"Never allow children to use fireworks unattended,” Kannry said. "When you're using legal fireworks, make sure they're on a flat area away from any structures, away from any fences, away from any dry brush. And make sure you have a water can, a water bucket, a fire extinguisher."

Across the country, fireworks are responsible for property damage, injury and even deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 11 people were killed in fireworks accidents in 2022.

While the chief says the apartment fire was started by children playing with illegal fireworks, adults are ultimately responsible.

"We have a pretty big fireworks problem in this community," said Donnelly. "That doesn't happen with children alone. We have plenty of adults that are engaged in it, condone it and allow it to happen. Their kids are also not driving to Pennsylvania or South Carolina on their own to buy fireworks. So, this is a community problem, and it's going to take a community to solve it."

Arson investigator Anne Guglik saved a man's life last year after an illegal firework exploded in his hand. She just so happened to be a block away and heard the sound.

“It blew up before they were able to throw it, and they lost most of their hand … So, I was able to go and put a tourniquet on his arm to slow down the bleeding," Guglik said.

"When there's a primary, direct explosion like that, it actually shreds the flesh, rather than just cutting it, and the mechanisms that cause blood flow to be slower from wounds don't work on shredded arteries and veins, so he could have bled very quickly," Guglik added.

According to the CPSC, about 75% of fireworks-related injuries happen in the weeks around July 4. Fire officials also warn fireworks sold legally in one state may not be legal in other jurisdictions.

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