Fireworks sales facing total ban as PM talks tough

By Wayne Thompson, Alanah May Eriksen, Andrew Koubaridis

Prime Minister Helen Clark has indicated fireworks sales could be banned if people behave badly at Guy Fawkes tonight - a call supported by the Fire Service.

She was reacting after at least nine people were injured in fireworks-related incidents at the weekend.

One was an 8-year-old autistic boy whose family say he could have been made blind by a fireball exploding into his face.

They say they may give up fireworks forever.

Helen Clark said the noise of fireworks in her home suburb of Mt Eden was horrific on Saturday night.

"Last night in my suburb, I felt as if I was in downtown Kandahar [in Afghanistan]," she said.

Last year was one of the worst Guy Fawkes for injuries and property damage, leading the Government to reduce the time in which fireworks could be bought from 10 days to four before November 5 and restricting purchases to those over 18.

Emergency services attended 1561 fireworks-related events nationwide in Guy Fawkes week last year.

Northern Fire Service shift manager Jaron Phillips reported 203 callouts on Saturday night, double the usual number. On Friday night the service responded to 124 calls.

Helen Clark said: "We are going to have to look at the reports from this one. I think the best use of fireworks is in the beautiful public displays."

Auckland Assistant Regional Fire Commander Dave Neil also wants a total ban on sales, saying the new restrictions are "a positive thing but they just don't work".

The acting national commander, Paul McGill, said the Fire Service would conduct a review to see what changes could be made to regulations governing sales.

The injured 8-year-old, Joseph Mains of Howick, was standing about 10m from a "Blaze" firework on Saturday night when it exploded, blasting out fireballs that went sideways instead of into the air.

One hit Joseph and a 14-year-old friend.

His mother, Rachel Mains, initially didn't realise Joseph had been hit, and went to the aid of the 14-year-old, who was burned on the neck.

"At first we thought he [her son] was just frightened by the fireworks but then we could smell the burning and my oldest looked at Joseph and saw the black on his face.

"It was the worst thing ... I could smell his hair burning," Mrs Mains said.

"If he hadn't closed his eyes he would have been blind."

The two boys were rushed inside and had water splashed on their burns. "Joseph kept saying, "Turn the light off", and we took him to [Accident and Emergency] to be checked out."

Apart from some redness around his eyes and lips, he wasn't badly hurt. His 14-year-old friend was left with a sore, dark patch on his neck.

After Saturday night's shock, Mrs Mains didn't think the family would use fireworks again. "I think that's it."

In another incident on Saturday night, a "rogue firework" shot 150m into the crowd and injured three girls during a Guy Fawkes event at Alexandra Park Raceway.

The event, attended by 12,000 people, mainly in family groups, was an annual fundraiser for the Howick Lions Club.

Organiser Gary Troup said last night that the girls, aged 7, 9 and 10, suffered burns and were taken by ambulance to the Starship. They were later discharged.

"I have been in touch with the parents and it seems the children's injuries were minor but they were unsettled by the whole incident," said Mr Troup.

The Lions Club's qualified and registered pyrotechnicians had a 28-year accident-free record.

"It was a rogue firework. It travelled 150m-plus to the crowd, breaking up as it went along," he said.

The distributor of the "Girondola" firework, David York, said he would study a video of the incident to try to work out what went wrong.

"It's like a helicopter. It spins on a post to start off with, builds up momentum and takes off. It's meant to go straight up, hesitate, and continue to go up.

"Something could have happened to it before it took off, such as falling debris off another firework."

The event was being held to raise money for the eye service at Middlemore Hospital.

A 22-year-old man was taken to Auckland City Hospital on Saturday night with what was believed to be a serious eye injury after a fireworks accident at a private display in Glen Eden.

Two men were seriously burned in Mosgiel, near Dunedin, early on Sunday. Police said it appeared one of them poured petrol on to a fire and was still holding the petrol container when another man tackled him and pushed him backwards into the flames. Petrol spilled from the container and ignited, burning both.

One suffered severe burns to his upper body and face, the other severe burns to his right leg.

Elsewhere in the South Island, a pyrotechnics operator was admitted to hospital after a firework went off in his face during a public display at Woodford Glen Speedway in Kaiapoi, near Christchurch.

- additional reporting: NZPA

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