Fireworks: Legal to buy? Yes. Legal to use? Not so fast.

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Fourth of July is just a couple of days away and everywhere you look, there are fireworks for sale. Just because you can buy them, however, it doesn't mean you can legally use them.

This is the second Independence Day it has been legal for Arizona residents to buy certain kinds of "consumer" fireworks. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law in May 2010, a 50-year ban on fireworks sales in the state by allowing people 16 and older to purchase specific kinds of fireworks. The law kicked in six months later, just in time for New Year's celebrations welcoming 2011.

Fireworks sold in Arizona are supposed to be of the "safe and sane" variety. They don't fire projectiles, they do not explode, and they do not shoot into the air. Basically, they are novelties albeit potentially dangerous ones.

While you can buy these novelties, including sparklers, party poppers, ground spinners, snakes and snappers, you can't necessarily use them where you buy them. Most municipalities govern the use of fireworks within their borders. The cities also dictate the charges and potential punishments offenders might face. Penalties for the illegal use of fireworks in Phoenix, for example, are a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail. The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Because the regulations vary from city to city, it can be confusing.

So, how do you know what's legal and what's not? Check with your city. What's legal in Phoenix might not be in Scottsdale, Glendale or Mesa.

Regardless of the cities' individual ordinances, firefighters all over the Valley agree they would prefer you simply don't use fireworks of any kind. Period.

"Just don't buy them at all," said Capt. Scott Walker of the Phoenix Fire Department last Fourth of July. "Don't use them at all. Let the professionals do the fireworks show."

If you do decide to use novelty fireworks on your own, there are a few safety tips you should follow.

First, avoid fireworks in brown paper, Phoenix fire inspector Brian Scholl said.

"The ones that are wrapped in brown paper are usually illegal stuff," Scholl explained. "You don't know where it's actually made. I wouldn't touch anything that's wrapped in any kind of brown paper."

When you're ready to light up, make sure you have a bucket of water and a working hose nearby.

Never try to relight or handle duds and never shoot off any kinds of fireworks in metal or glass containers.

Finally, soak the ashes and remains of your burnt novelty fireworks with water before tossing them in the trash. Even while talking about safety, Scholl reiterated what firefighters have been saying for years: Leave fireworks to the professionals.

"It's a lot less messy," he said.

Not only is using fireworks illegal in most municipalities, it also can affect your insurance. Should something go wrong with your fireworks, your insurance might not cover your claim, Brad Oltmans of AAA of Arizona's insurance department.

"If you burn down somebody's house, God forbid … it makes it very difficult for insurance carriers to pick you up and cover you moving forward," he said.