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Fireworks experts talk America's favorite explosives

Fireworks experts talk America's favorite explosives
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jul 01, 2015
and last updated 2016-06-30 10:08:45-04

On paper, the Fourth of July is about celebrating America’s independence. But really it’s about blowing stuff up.

Americans spend about $1 billion on fireworks annually, with more than two-thirds of that being purchased by consumers for backyard fireworks displays, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

But for an activity so closely associated with patriotism, almost none of these legal explosives are produced in the United States. In 2007, the APA said nearly 99 percent of all fireworks sold in the country are imported from China. If you ask industry professionals today, they’ll confirm that fact hasn’t changed.

“[Manufacturing] just doesn’t happen in the U.S.,” said Bill Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks. “It’s all made in China today.”

During the holiday, chances are many Americans will witness or participate in the detonation of a display of Chinese-made, American-sold fireworks. But what colorful explosives have been flying off store shelves fastest?

A spokesperson for American Fireworks, a company that’s been in the pyro business since 1902, said its consistent best sellers are 500-gram cakes — the biggest consumer explosives allowed by federal law. A typical 500-gram unit will split the explosives into dozens or even hundreds of tubes that go off in a preordained order after one fuse is lit.

He also said smaller pieces like bottle rockets and firecrackers are always strong sellers.

Weimer agreed that 500-gram cakes were a top-seller for his company, specifically pointing to the 205-shot “Phandemonium” as Phantom’s best seller in that category.

The “Phandemonium” sells for $199.99 and will provide about 33 seconds worth of fiery entertainment, according to Phantom’s website. That’s about $6 — and 15 grams of gunpowder — per second.

But Weimer said the most popular item his company sells is a reloadable mortar shell kit, appropriately called “Lock and Load.” The $199.99 kit boasts the phrase “barely legal” on its box and its online description promises “plenty of noise.”

Despite the increased firepower, fireworks enthusiasts may be better off purchasing a 500-gram cake than a reloadable shell kit, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2011, reloadable shell products accounted for 20 percent of all fireworks-related injuries, whereas repeaters like “Phandemonium” accounted for 3 percent.

Clint Davis is a reporter for the Scripps National News Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.