Sunshine, water, fireworks and your pets: Staying safe on the Fourth

An assortment of fireworks
An assortment of fireworks sit on a shelf for sale at a Alamo Fireworks in Parker, Texas.
Tony Gutierrez | AP 2015

This story was originally published in 2016. Portions of it have been updated.

The Fourth of July is arguably among the best holidays to celebrate in Minnesota. The weather's nice. The grill is hot and the beer is cold. And at night, there are fireworks.

But the mix of hot sun, alcohol and readily available explosives also make this one of the most dangerous holidays of the year.

A look at the hazards, starting with the most obvious: Fireworks.


Fireworks for the Fourth of July
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety offers several tips for staying safe around fireworks. Top among them: Remember the 5-foot rule. Keep sparklers at least 5 feet away from flammable items and other people.
Michael Smith | Getty Images 2001

At this time of year, back in 2012, Nick Beheng of Linwood, Minn., lit a mortar firework while holding it in his hand. It exploded.

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"It blew my thumb off," he said. "Now I have a hard time picking stuff up."

Beheng spoke at a news conference sponsored by the state Department of Public Safety in 2016, warning Minnesotans to be careful with their fireworks.

The Department of Public Safety offers these suggestions for staying safe around holiday fireworks:

  • Point fireworks in an open area away from trees and houses.

  • Extinguish and dispose of spent fireworks in a bucket of water. Do not try to relight a dud.

  • Always use caution around fireworks and make sure children are supervised.

  • Remember the "5-foot rule": Keep people and flammable materials at least 5 feet away from a lit sparkler.

  • Only use legal fireworks. Find a list on the DPS' website.

In the outdoors

Ticks and a penny
The three stages of the blacklegged tick -- an adult female, a nymph and larvae -- as compared to a penny at a lab at the University of Minnesota.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

July Fourth is a time to be outside, but that's where the ticks and mosquitoes live. Both pests can carry disease, so be careful.

Some tips for avoiding the bugs:


In Minnesota, blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) are the ones that carry disease.

They live on the ground and prefer "edge habitat," which is where habitat changes from forest to brushy growth. They thrive in undergrowth and forests made up of young trees.

  • Avoid areas where ticks are active.

  • If you can't avoid those areas, wear long-sleeved shirts with pants, and tuck your pants into your socks.

  • Use repellent containing permethrin or DEET.

  • Check yourself frequently for ticks and remove them promptly when you find them.


"DEET is the standard" for keeping mosquitoes at bay, Dr. Mustapha Debboun, director of the mosquito control division of Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services in Houston, told NPR. "All the repellents being tested are tested to see if they beat DEET."

Insect repellents don't kill mosquitoes, but they do keep them away. And, as with ticks, experts suggest wearing long sleeves, long pants, and covering the vulnerable parts of the skin like the neck, face and feet.

How often to reapply? It depends on the circumstances, experts told NPR:

People who will be outside for an hour or two hour should be protected with, say, a product that contains a lower concentration of DEET (about 10 percent — identified on the label). Those who will be out in the woods, or jungle or marshland, should use a higher concentration of 20 to 25 percent, and refresh every four hours or so.

Swimming safety

Catherine St. Hill (right) swims with her 4-year-old daughter Zoe Weber at Como Pool in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2014

And if you're by the lake, be vigilant for struggling swimmers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children 14 or younger. The people most at risk for drowning are males, children between the ages of 1 and 4 years old, and minorities.

But drowning does not look like drowning, and it can be difficult to spot. It's often a quiet struggle that involves little yelling or splashing.

Read more to learn more about how to identify a person who's drowning — and to test your ability to spot a struggling swimmer.

On the roads

Construction traffic
The road hazards this weekend are broad: Some road closures, lots of traffic and the threat of impaired driving after fireworks.
William Lager | MPR News 2016

When the fireworks wrap up, stay safe out there on the roads.

The holiday often also sees more drunken drivers than St. Patrick's Day, says State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson.

"We really try and have extra enforcement," he said, "and take the impaired drivers off the roadways."

Your pets

A dog around a bonfire outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
According to PetAmberAlert, a lost pet finder system, more pets go missing around the Fourth of July than any other time of year after being scared by fireworks.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Don't forget about the furry members of your family — the Fourth can be quite dangerous for them as well.

According to PetAmberAlert, a lost pet finder system, more pets go missing around the Fourth of July than any other time of year after being scared by fireworks.

"Animals do not enjoy fireworks like people, it is stressful for them," says Paula Zukoff, the Animal Humane Society's behavior modification and rehabilitation manager. "The safest place for all pets during these celebrations is at home and inside."

The humane society offers up these tips for keeping your pets safe during summer celebrations:

  • Don't take pets to fireworks displays. Frightened animals can run off.

  • Don't leave your pet in the car while you attend fireworks displays. In addition to the danger posed by pet thieves, cars can heat up to a deadly temperature in minutes even with windows partially opened.

  • Keep pets in a safe, indoor place. Some can become destructive when frightened. Remove any items your pet can destroy or that may be harmful to them if chewed on. Leave a radio or TV on.

  • Never leave pets outside and unattended, even in a fenced yard or on a chain. Animals may panic, escape and get lost, or get injured by becoming entangled in their chain.

  • Make sure pets are wearing updated identification so they can be returned if they do get lost. A collar and ID tag are the best ways to secure your pet's return in the event it runs away or becomes lost.

MPR News reporters John Enger, Molly Bloom, Nancy Yang and Ellen Bartyzal contributed to this report.