Backyard booms get bigger

For backyard patriots, the rockets available this Fourth of July are flashier, more creative and louder than ever before.

Thanks to an increase in the legal limit of the amount of pyrotechnic material allowed in consumer fireworks – the kind purchased in roadside trucks and shot off private lawns – a whole new class of recreational explosive has become available to amateur enthusiasts, said Harry Chang of Black Cat Fireworks.

At the same time, the use of backyard fireworks has more than doubled since 2000, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. That has caused concern among some public safety groups that the rise in both popularity and firepower could prove a combustible mix.

“It's like how Giorgio Armani might develop a pair of jeans that the average person could never have, but eventually lesser designers come out with their own versions,” Chang said. “Over the years, smaller, safer versions of professional fireworks have trickled down to consumers.”

Chief among recent innovations is the multishot aerial, shooting rockets of varying hues up to 100 yards in the air. Chang called it a “display in a box.”

Backyard pyrotechnicians can also find fireworks in a wider variety of colors, including magenta, lemonade and the difficult to create deep blue, along with effects that were once the sole purview of professionals.

Looser laws have also had some effect. Five states have opened to fireworks or relaxed laws since 2000, Heckman said, though Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island still ban them completely out of safety concerns.

Stricter regulations at the federal level make the storage, transport and purchase of fireworks safer, said Alan Zoldan, executive vice president of the Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks. Still, the National Fire Protection Association advocates a total ban on consumer fireworks. More fires typically are reported in the U.S. on Independence Day than on any other day of the year, said spokeswoman Lorraine Carlie.