Utah post office officials say putting firecrackers in mailboxes may seem like a harmless prank, but it can injure people, damage property and land the perpetrator in prison for up to three years.

"Every July, people put firecrackers, cherry bombs and other fireworks in mailboxes," says Salt Lake City postal inspector Donald Obritsch."It is done mostly be youngsters and it's probably meant as a prank, but such actions can not only damage mail and mailboxes, but flying metal can seriously harm people, including the youths themselves."

Last year, hundreds of mailboxes across Utah were destroyed by fireworks, he said. "We're just fortunate that nobody was injured."

Obritsch said damaging mail and mailboxes is a state violation called malicious mischief and a federal crime called destruction of a mailbox. Violators can be fined up to $1,000 in addition to the stiff prison sentence and, if damage exceeds $100, the fine goes up to $10,000 and imprisonment can be up to 10 years.

"Parents need to make their children aware that damaging mail or mailboxes is no joke, has severe penalties and is a safety hazard."

He said people whose mail or mailboxes are vandalized should call the Postal Inspection Service at 974-2271.