When Catherine McConnell of Lyman stopped Wednesday at Atlas PyroVision in Scarborough, she had a shopping list.
“We went online and looked at all their videos and voted on which ones to get,” she said.
She bought the always-popular “Festival of Fireworks” assortment, as well as Black Mamba mortars and several other kinds of fireworks to shoot off at the house on Lake Arrowhead where her family and friends gather each Fourth of July. “We like to put on a weekend-long display,” she said.
Such a display quickly adds up to hundreds of dollars, and fireworks vendors in Maine say their sales are brisk as the holiday nears. They’re hopeful that will be enough to offset a drop in sales in the past year.
Sales tax figures from the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services show that after better-than-expected sales in 2012-13 – the first year consumer fireworks were legal in Maine – sales dropped off 28 percent in 2013-14.
A similar drop occurred nationwide, although it wasn’t as extreme. Nationally, sales of fireworks in 2013, by weight, were off 12 percent from 2012, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
In Maine, vendors and observers say the July Fourth holiday period in 2012 was a bonanza because it was the first chance for people to buy and set off fireworks legally in the state. Maine Revenue Services projected sales tax revenue from fireworks at $125,000 for the first year. Instead, people spent $7.6 million on fireworks, three times as much as forecast, and sales tax revenue came in at $380,000.
In the next year, the novelty of fireworks wore off for some people, and many communities passed ordinances to regulate, or in some cases prohibit, use of consumer fireworks.
“It’s noise, trash and dangerous behavior,” said Saco Police Chief Brad Paul, whose city banned consumer fireworks, in part because homes in Saco are so close together.
Fireworks complaints to police jumped from two dozen on the July Fourth holiday before 2012 to 200 after fireworks were made legal, he said.
“Officers witnessed fireworks going off errantly. We had one tear through a crowd and bounce off a cottage. I don’t know how someone wasn’t injured,” he said. “It seemed tremendously unregulated and just way over the top. … Alcohol and explosives, what could go wrong?”
This year, Saco police have additional authority to issue citations to property owners, because tracking down someone who lights the fuse can be difficult, he said.
Fireworks sales in Maine dropped to $5.5 million in 2013-14, but Jessie Moore, a corporate representative for Phantom Fireworks who was working at the company’s Scarborough store Wednesday, said sales are on the upswing again.
“Today we’ve been steady, and some periods we’ve been getting slammed,” she said. “On the 1st (of July) it just changes to another level, and then on the 3rd, it goes into a gear nobody knows at all.”
Moore said 85 percent to 90 percent of the fireworks sales in the Northeast come around July Fourth. In Southern states, New Year’s Eve is a big fireworks holiday, too.
This year, colors are in for discerning fireworks shoppers.
“They want to see the show more than the noise right now – really good colors, really high, big breaks,” Moore said. “A lot of new items are all about looking pretty.”
As customers get more experienced, they seem more comfortable with larger displays, which leads to bigger sales, she said.
The state doesn’t track, nor does it have a good count of, the number of people in Maine who have been hurt by consumer fireworks since they were legalized in 2012.
Maine hospitals reported 19 fireworks injuries in 2012, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said he did not have a number on last year’s injuries.
Thomas said there is no requirement for such injuries to be reported to his office. Legislation that would have required medical personnel to report all burn injuries to the state died in the last legislative session. With reporting voluntary, many burn injuries have not been reported at all, Thomas said.
Since January, a group of hospitals, emergency medical services and the Fire Marshal’s Office has been cooperating to gather that data, which can be used to determine trends and target education and safety initiatives, Thomas said. Since emergency medical providers started their reporting this year, there have been three fireworks-related injuries, he said.
Officials at Southern Maine Health Care, Mercy Hospital, Central Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center were unable to give figures Wednesday on the number of people who have come to their emergency departments with fireworks-related injuries. A message left with Maine Medical Center was not returned.
Nationally, hospitals reported 11,400 injuries in 2013 that involved fireworks, according to a report issued last month by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. About two-thirds of them occurred in the month from June 21 to July 21. The report said the number of injuries has remained largely constant over the past 15 years.
Although the national numbers are collected from hospitals in each state, a spokeswoman for the commission said it does not have a state-by-state breakdown of fireworks injuries.
During the month around July Fourth last year, 2,300 injuries were caused by sparklers, 800 involved firecrackers and 300 were caused by bottle rockets, the report said. Most often, the injuries were to hands and fingers, followed by head and face, then eyes, then legs.
The American Pyrotechnics Association says the number of fireworks injuries dropped to 8,600 in 2012 after climbing to 9,600 in 2011, although the rate of injuries has remained constant, at about four injuries for every 100,000 pounds used.
McConnell said almost all of her friends and family at Lake Arrowhead are adults and are careful with fireworks. They wear safety glasses when they light fireworks and make sure viewers stand a good distance away.
“Nobody wants to drive to the hospital in the middle of Fourth of July night,” she said.
For some fireworks safety tips, go to www.fireworksafety.com.