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Maine has had legal fireworks for three years and the one thing everybody wants is the one thing they cannot have.

The bottle rocket, the whizzing firecracker atop a thin, pink stick, is the single most requested item, according to local fireworks vendors.

“It’s the one thing everybody asks for, bottle rockets,” said Steve Marden, owner of Pyro City in Manchester. “Everybody comes in here thinking that’s what they want.”

But they’re also forbidden in Maine. When the state legalized fireworks back in 2011, bottle rockets, along with plastic-finned sky rockets and helicopters, were left on the banned list.

“You can’t shoot anything that can tip over on it’s own and fly in random directions,” said Andre Vandenbulcke of Aah Fireworks in West Paris. “And bottle rockets can go awry pretty easily.”

But don’t worry.

As it turns out, the venerable bottle rocket with it’s rattling whoosh and thin pop, is highly overrated. Any Mainer who has ventured into one of the state’s many fireworks shops knows that today’s legal offerings put bottle rockets to shame.

A single 60-gram reloadable artillery shell has more stomach-rattling oomph, more lights-in-the-sky dazzle, than a fistful of the finest bottle rockets money can buy.

“So, if they come in looking for bottle rockets, they don’t worry about that for long,” Marden said. “We’ve got plenty for them to look at.”

There are a lot of legal options for residents these days, from fountains to Roman candles to exploding cardboard cars.

“It’s so new in Maine, everybody really wants the same thing,” Vandenbulcke said. “They want the big explosions up in the sky.”

With that in mind, we asked local vendors for their five most popular items.

Next, we picked up some and tested them to see what kind of bang we got for our buck.

Keep in mind, these are fun and legal, but none of them are toys. Safety officials and vendors agree: Kids shouldn’t be allowed to set them off, and certainly not without adult supervision. Adults should be careful, keep a hose handy and follow the instructions on the package. See related story for safety instructions.

And put down the beer until the show’s over.

#5: Novelties

Relatively inexpensive, these are impulse buys that people pick up on their way to checkout stand. Cost can range from 50 cents each to $10 and can include snappers (the tiny paper-wrapped explosives that pop when thrown on the ground), tanks, fire engines, drag racers, crackling balls, smoke bombs, spinners and sparklers.

“You can make the small items last quite a while,” said Catherine Richards of South Paris’ Havoc Fireworks. “It’s why they’re a good deal. You can get a lot of variety and have a lot of fun.”

Her favorites are the zips — inch-tall cardboard tubes that spin into the air.

“They make crazy noises,” she said. “I have a video, and the minute I show people what they do, people buy them by the handful.”

Most novelties are limited in their showmanship: just a few sparks and pop or two, or as a visual joke. But they serve a purpose: giving eager kids and parents something to do while it’s still light out. These are appetizers for the evening’s main event.

It’s hard to expect too much from a cardboard dog that shoots ash and flames from its rear end or a red-white-and-blue paper tank that blast sparks before blowing up. Thankfully, we just paid a couple of bucks for each.

#4: Fountains

A sunset favorite, they come in all sorts of varieties and colors. Some shoot colored sparks 10 feet skyward, while others scream and whistle.

“People like fountains, especially if they don’t want to disturb anybody,” said Jay Blais at Patriot Fireworks in Monmouth and Livermore. “They want to do something for the kids and say they did fireworks, but don’t want to wake the neighbors.”

They are perfect show starters, giving everyone a taste of what’s to come and reminding them to settle in and get ready for the show.

“It’s the right kind of dusk firework,” Vandenbulcke said.

Fountains range from $2 to $30. The fountain the Sun Journal tested, a $15 Megabanger Lucky Diamond fountain, turned out to be pretty solid — close to a minute’s show, rotating through various kinds and colors of sparks.

#3: Cake (a.k.a. aerial repeater)

A cake is the mainstay of any amateur fireworks show, sort of a self-contained mini fireworks display in a box.

Ranging from $7 to $50, they can be short and sweet or pretty dazzling — a few quick bursts or a few minutes of sky boomers.

It really could not be simpler: Put the box on a solid, flat surface and make sure it’s oriented correctly; some include a sticker warning you to turn a certain side toward spectators. Then you light it and move away.

“Some have seven shots, some have 50, but it all depends upon how much room you have in your yard,” Marden said. “(If) you want a good show, but you don’t want to leave a bunch of stuff in the neighbor’s yard, this is what you get.”

A cake is basically a big happy mix of your favorites in one display. You’ll get some whistle-rocket like blasts, a fountain or two, maybe even a shimmering sky display.

#2: Finale cake

The finale cake is just like it’s little brother, but bigger and beefier. Most average cakes top out somewhere between 200 and 300 grams of gunpowder. Ranging from $40 to $160, finale cakes go right to the legal limit: 500 grams.

“When it comes to Fourth of July, a lot of people want the 500-gram cake,” Richards said. “They are a lot easier. You light one fuse and you get a lot of different shots and it’s pretty simple. You step back and you watch it do it’s thing.”

And if a small cake is great, the big one is better.

“We have a new one that just came in called ‘Overloaded’ that’s a 192-shot repeater,” Vandenbulcke said. “You get stars, willow breaks and you get crackling. It puts on its own little show, pretty much.”

#1: Reloadables or artillery shells

As close to a professional display as you can get, this is the kind of fireworks Mainers really want when they ask for pop bottle rockets.

You get a reusable plastic pipe and a number of cardboard shells filled with up to 60 grams of gunpowder each. Drop a shell in the pipe, light the fuse and walk away. They can range from $10 to $120.

“The first year, I stocked the six-packs and I sold out,” Blais said.”The next year, I stocked the 12-pack and sold out of those, but didn’t sell many six-packs. This year, I’ve added the 24-pack. We’ll see what happens.”

There are a couple of caveats with the artillery shells. They are one-at-a time fireworks. You fire one, wait for the smoke to clear, load another and then fire it.

And, of course, follow directions carefully; don’t be in a hurry. Putting the shell in the wrong way — upside down — will send it into the tube, where all that explosive force will be concentrated — wrecking the tube and putting an end to the evenings festivities at the very least.

When done right, the result is pretty spectacular: a teeth-rattling thud as the shell launches out of the tube, followed by an explosion 200 feet up and a display about 180 feet in diameter. Each shell is different — silver crackles, green flowers, blue shields. Just like the professionals.

“I like the reloadables more than the cakes because I did the math,” Blais said. “If you have a 500-gram cake with nine shots, that’s about 55 grams of gunpowder per shot. If (the cake) has 100 shots or more, well that’s even less. But then you take a reloadable with 60 grams per shell, that’s a much better show.”

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Have a blast, but know the rules and take precautions

Fireworks are serious business and shouldn’t be taken lightly, according to Jay Blais of Patriot Fireworks.

He urges people who buy fireworks from his shop be careful: Wear safety glasses, keep a bucket of water or a hose handy and don’t drink alcohol.

Steve Hussey, who works in Patriot’s Monmouth shop, said it’s good to know when a dud’s a dud, too.

“If it doesn’t light, put it in the water and don’t try to relight it,” Hussey said.

Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair said he’d prefer people go to a professional show rather than light them off themselves.

“But they are legal, so if they are going to discharge fireworks we’d just ask that they be very careful in general,” LeClair said. “Do some due diligence.”

Keep kids away from the fireworks, keep clear of buildings and watch for fires.

“We just want them to be responsible, because that’s where things fall apart,” LeClair said. “People choose to be irresponsible and that’s when they get hurt.”

A 2010 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found 8,600 fireworks-related injuries nationally that year. Of those, 65 percent of the injuries happened to males and 55 percent to people younger then 20 years old.

Firecrackers accounted for 900 injuries and sparklers accounted for 1,200 injuries — by burning hands or catching clothing on fire.

Maine rules specifically ban three types of fireworks — bottle rockets, sky rockets (or finned missiles) and bladed helicopter-type fireworks.

In addition to the state rules, 68 Maine cities and towns have adopted their own rules for fireworks use and sale. For a complete list, go to the Maine Fire Marshal’s Website at www.maine.gov/dps/fmo/index.htm.

Some local examples:

* In Lewiston, fireworks are allowed on only three days of the year, and even then only in the outskirts of the city — the same area as the city’s firearms discharge zone. That zone is outside of a half-circle that runs from the Androscoggin River, south of Merrill Road, follows transmission lines east to Grove Street and to the eastern limit of the city. From there, it follows the Maine Turnpike back to the river. For anywhere inside that circle, fireworks possession and use is banned year-round.

Outside of that zone, fireworks are allowed on three dates — July 4, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 — no earlier then 10 a.m. and no later then 10 p.m.. They are not allowed on public property — including parks, roads and schools — must not be within 75 feet of any building and cannot be used if the fire chief has declared a fire danger.

* Auburn’s rules are much more simple: Fireworks are not allowed within the city limits.

* Sabattus goes the other way, allowing fireworks on any day that the Maine Forest Service does not declare a Class 4 fire danger or greater.

* Mechanic Falls allows fireworks on any Friday or Saturday after sunset and until 10 p.m. They are also allowed from 9:30 a.m. July 4 until 12:30 a.m. the following day and for the same time on July 3 and 5 if those days fall on a weekend. Mechanic Falls also allows fireworks on New Year’s Day.

* Livermore Falls residents can use fireworks in the village area from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. any day of the year, and until 12:30 a.m. on July 5 and on New Year’s Eve. They’re allowed on the Saturday and Sunday immediately before or after those days, as well. They can’t be shot off within 50 feet of a house or if the Maine Forest Service declares a Class 4 fire danger or greater.

Go to the Maine Fire Marshal’s Website at www.maine.gov/dps/fmo/index.htm for your town’s restrictions.

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2014 Fireworks Displays

Start practicing your “ooohs” and “ahhhhhs” because cities and towns across Maine are shooting off fantastic fireworks displays this week. To help you find pyrotechnics near you, this map has approximate locations of public fireworks displays running through July.

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