Area residents welcome New Year with a bang

Fireworks appeal to tradition, kids at heart

In an area steeped in tradition, one of the biggest is the gathering of friends and family on New Year’s Eve to celebrate with fireworks — a ritual the Michelle Crumholt’s family has enjoyed for years.

This year, she and her family plan to gather at a relative’s house in St. Francisville to light the artillery shells, mini-rockets and noisemakers filling a big 27-piece fireworks package.

It’s got a little bit of everything that my husband usually buys,” Crumholt said, after purchasing the aptly named “Whole Lot of Firepower” pack Sunday at Louisiana Fireworks in Port Allen.

She said the family usually puts on a big show for July 4 and New Year’s that everyone looks forward to seeing.

“We’ve got plenty of adults who are still kids at heart,” Crumholt said.

Thousands of other families no doubt will be gathering around a bonfire, barbecue pit or ice chest — sometimes all three —to watch a family fireworks display, a professional fireworks show or one put on in their neighborhood to ring in the New Year.

“I think everybody’s excited,” said Greg Clawson, manager of Louisiana Fireworks in Lafayette. “We’ve had excellent weather, with the exception of Saturday, so everybody’s been able to get out and test the new products to see what they like in order to prepare for their shows and their displays and their celebrations for New Year’s Eve.”

While illegal in all of East Baton Rouge Parish, including Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary, fireworks are legal in varying degrees in most neighboring parishes. Generally, they are allowed in unincorporated areas but not in some towns.

Clawson said sales are good this year and they are seeing an increase in customers, something he attributes to a rise in neighborhoods banding together and passing around the hat to collect enough money for one big display.

“We’ve seen several groups come in early shop for a bigger assortment and bigger selection versus years past in order to put on a better display and bigger show,” Clawson said.

The top seller, he said, is the Excalibur, a 24-piece artillery shell package.

T.K. Bercegeay, 52, co-owner of Bercegeay Blue House Fireworks with her husband, Travis, on La. 44 in Gonzales, also identified the Excalibur as the top seller.

Other popular items, especially among parents with young children, are sparklers and poppers, Bercegeay said.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said fireworks present a safety hazard if not handled properly and parents should make sure their children are aware of the dangers.

“In recent years, fireworks have been one of the leading causes of injuries serious enough to require hospital emergency room treatment,” Browning said in a news release about fireworks safety. “Fireworks can result in severe burns, fractures, scars, lifelong disfigurement or even death.”

Last New Year’s, the Fire Marshal’s Office investigated seven incidents in which mishandling fireworks resulted in injuries.

In one case, a 3-year-old Harvey girl suffered second degree burns to her neck, face, ear and head when a bottle rocket flew into her hoodie. In another, a 27-year-old Baton Rouge man suffered severe injuries and had to have his left hand amputated after a homemade firework exploded on a glass table.

In the news release regarding fireworks safety, Browning offered safety tips such as following the instruction labels on the box, not altering fireworks and keeping a hose or water bucket nearby.

Clawson said Louisiana Fireworks promotes safety in its stores.

“I would say the vast majority of people and consumers that use fireworks have safety as high of a priority that it needs to be,” Clawson said.

“I think most people understand that consumer fireworks need to be respected and they need to follow the directions and used under close adult supervision.”

Ron Gunnels, of Port Allen, who was browsing the fireworks on display at Louisiana Fireworks with his son Andrew, 11, said he’s made sure his son knows the proper way to handle and light fireworks.

The more powerful fireworks, though, he still handles himself.

“In case anything goes wrong, I couldn’t bear to see him get hurt,” he said.

Still, he said he looks forward to the yearly display almost as much as he looks forward to it being over.

“He enjoys it,” he said, motioning toward his son. “But I’m glad when it’s over. All I see is $100 going up in smoke.”