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What are Roman Candles?

By Shelley L. Courtney
Updated Feb 21, 2024
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Roman candles are a type of firework. A firework is a low explosive pyrotechnic device used for entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is for firework displays, like the ones seen on holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the US.

The Chinese are credited with the invention of the firework, and were creating complex displays centuries before others. Italy was also extremely influential in the development of fireworks for celebratory purposes, so it's not surprising that this popular firework's name reflects the name of the city Rome.

A Roman candle firework is a single-tube firework device constructed of alternating layers of a black powder lift charge, pyrotechnic stars, and a delay charge. The bottom of the tube, is plugged with a clay bulkhead. Roman candles burn slowly because of the delay charge. Once the topmost star ignites, the burning accelerates, igniting the lift charge. As the star is propelled out of the tube, the delay powder is also ignited, which restarts the whole process.

Roman candle fireworks come in a variety of sizes, and eject one or more stars or exploding shells. In other words, there are no definite results once Roman candles are ignited. The burst could be colorful comets with various effects, single commets, individual or multiple firework stars, or small aerial star shells.

The pyrotechnic stars found within a Roman candle are pellet-like pieces that may contain a mixture of compounds that, when ignited, exude a colorful spark. Stars are either pumped, or cylinder-shaped; cut, or cube-shaped; or rolled, or spherical-shaped. In order to make sure the stars ignite, they are often primed with black powder. For visual enjoyment, stars are also coated with a pyrotechnic colorant.

Roman Candles come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 0.2 inches (6 mm) in diameter to 3.1 inches (8 cm) diameter, which are used in fireworks displays. These larger Roman Candle fireworks will typically have more lift charge added to their top layers. This increases the acceleration and altitude of the stars.

Numerous injuries and accidental fires that have arisen due to fireworks, including Roman candles. In many locations, therefore, the ability for consumers to purchase fireworks is often limited. In the US, although The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has created the restriction and safety standards, it's the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) who regulates explosives, including all US firework displays.

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Discussion Comments
By cardsfan27 — On Jul 14, 2012
@titans62 - Fully agree. There is not enough emphasis on fireworks safety as in punishment for people doing dumb things with fireworks.

If people were to be punished more severely for being reckless with fireworks, or even be forced to buy a permit in order to do so then there would not be as much of a problem.

However, I have noticed that some states do not require someone to have a permit in order to buy Roman candles and they are among the most dangerous types of fireworks out there that just anyone could buy.

One must express extreme caution with these types of fireworks simply due to what bad things can happen.

In dry conditions I would recommend disregarding using roman candles as they can easily catch an entire field on fire, due to the large fireball created by the blast out the end of the stick.

By titans62 — On Jul 14, 2012

@Izzy78 - I really have to disagree with you on that.

With all the accidents that occur on the news regarding fireworks, most seem to follow the pattern that it was someone using a firework in a way they were not supposed to, and it is usually not a roman candle.

I can understand what you mean by saying that these types of fireworks can be dangerous, but truth is that most can and they can inadvertently start a fire if one is not too careful.

Roman candles need to be used the right way and pointed at the sky. If it is done in this way it will not be a problem, the problem is simply some people become careless with them and choose to shoot them as a projectile at things and this is what is to blame for accidental fires and injuries, not the firework itself.

By Izzy78 — On Jul 13, 2012
@jmc88 - I know what you mean. I know someone that once set off some Roman candles and actually burned down their barn because they aimed their Roman candle at the side of the building.

I really think that these types of fireworks need to be banned in a lot of states, not because they are dangerous, but because they can be dangerous in the hands of really ignorant people that do not know how to use them.

I really feel like this is unfortunate to say, simply because these are my favorite types of fireworks, but it is true that it is also one of the easiest for someone to become reckless with and I really do not see an end to the madness surrounding this particular firework.

By jmc88 — On Jul 13, 2012
I am going to say that as far as Roman candles go they are probably among both the safest as well as the most dangerous fireworks.

I say this simply because it is a unique firework that one can hold in their hand without any risk of injury. However, it has the ability to shoot a projectile of sparks and flame that can severely injure a person if they are not too careful.

I know someone in my town that became reckless and started shooting people with Roman candles and as opposed to sparkler, that may burn someone lightly roman candles have a flame that is intense enough that it can really start a fire without the right conditions.

I would strongly recommend that if someone uses Roman candles to only point them straight up at the sky and not shoot them at anybody or anything.

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