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They come packaged in a bright red box labeled "Blast Zone," they're made by a company called TNT Fireworks and sold from a Fourth of July seasonal display at the local Wal-Mart store. Cautions on the smaller packets warn that the items are flammable and to be used only under close adult supervision.

But are they fireworks?

City officials say no, but they acknowledge that some confusion could exist this year as authorities work to enforce a citywide ban on fireworks.

"We'll do the very best we can to make sure the legal stuff is left alone," said Police Chief Rich St. John, who announced earlier this week that the department would beef up efforts to enforce the fireworks ban.

St. John said officers will be told to watch out for "look-alike" fireworks, such as the party poppers and snappers sold at Wal-Mart.

For $29.97, Wal-Mart shoppers in Billings can pick up the "Blast Zone," a variety pack of party poppers with pull stings and snappers. The packaging of the confetti-throwing products is similar to what can be found at the fireworks stands currently ringing the city limits.

But while they may look like fireworks, the poppers and snappers are not defined as fireworks under state law and are legal to possess and use within the city limits, said city Fire Marshal Frank Odermann.

"It boils down to combustion, and that involves burning," Odermann said of the difference between the poppers and traditional fireworks. "These use a different kind of propellant."

State law defines fireworks as "any combustible or explosive composition or any substance, combination of substances … prepared for the purpose of producing a visible or audible effect by combustion, explosion, deflagration, or detonation."

George Reichenbach, a licensed fireworks dealer in Billings, said the party poppers and snappers like those sold at Wal-Mart are not classified under federal guidelines as fireworks.

"They are under a completely different classification and you can actually ship them through the mail and UPS," he said.

Reichenbach said he has seen the display of poppers and snappers at the Heights Wal-Mart store. The packaging, he said, could confuse some shoppers.

"It's kind of deceiving," he said.

Sharon Richards, retail manager at Party Time Plus on South 29th Street West, said the store has stocked a similar product for several years. The party favors are shaped like a bottle and pop when a string is pulled. A package of 20 sells for $3.30, she said, and they are usually bought for weddings and birthday parties.

A spokesman for TNT Fireworks in Tacoma, Wash., did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Jolanda Stewart, a corporate spokeswoman for Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Ark., said the poppers and snappers are legal.

"All the items that we're selling in stores in Montana are considered novelty product and not a firework," she said. "None of these products are lit with a match and all of them utilize a pull string trick to get the job done."

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