Drought conditions prompt special concern over fireworks this 4th of July

June 21, 2011

Play it safe, leave the firework displays to the pros

Click here for Walton fireworks displays
The Walton County Safety Coalition (WCSC) – comprised of the South Walton Fire District (SWFD), the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the Florida Division of Forestry – is urging special caution with fireworks this Fourth of July holiday, and reminds the public that, not only are fireworks extremely dangerous, but most are prohibited in the state of Florida, including Walton County.

“Many people mistakenly believe that exploding fireworks are allowed on our beaches. Under Florida law, only novelty-type fireworks are legal for consumer usage, and anything that flies in the air or explodes is illegal,” says South Walton Fire District Fire Chief Rick Talbert. “We are encouraging the public to attend one of the free holiday fireworks displays scheduled throughout our area.”

Legal fireworks include sparklers, snake or glow worms, trick noisemakers, party poppers, snappers and other similar fireworks that contain small amounts of pyrotechnic materials that typically do not leave the ground.  “Just because sparklers are allowed, though, does not mean they are without risk,” advises South Walton Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez. “Parents should never allow children to hold sparklers without very close adult supervision. These fireworks burn at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, and remain hot for several minutes after burning out.”

According to Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson, Jr., current drought conditions mandate a zero tolerance policy toward individuals who use, sell or possess illegal fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday weekend and in the dry summer weeks following the celebration.

“Leave the shows to the pros,” advises Sheriff Adkinson. “Illegal fireworks are dangerous and can cause severe bodily injury and death.  Deputies will be in full force to ensure our citizens remain safe while they celebrate our nation’s birthday.”

On June 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Florida due to wildfires and drought conditions. State meteorologists forecast that the potential for any significant rainfall is low thru mid-July, with temperatures expected to be 10-15 degrees above normal.

The Keetch Byram Drought Index (KBDI) is currently at 650-699 in Walton County; the average KBDI for the state is 646. According to KBDI, 749 or greater is drought-like conditions. The wildfire threat as a result is expected to worsen in the new few weeks, which makes holiday fireworks even more hazardous than usual.

In conjunction with the drought conditions, the Florida Division of Forestry has advised that there are currently 422 active wildfires burning approximately 115,692 acres throughout the state. Bruce Smith, Forestry Area Supervisor with the Division of Forestry cautions people to exercise extra care with outdoor cooking. “Grills and smokers can present a special hazard in these extreme drought conditions,” he notes. “Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure that all embers are completely extinguished by soaking with water. Cigarettes are another potential fire hazard. Never toss a lit cigarette onto the ground.”

Those who still choose to use sparklers should follow these safety guidelines, provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Council on Fireworks Safety. Among them:  always read and follow label directions, have an adult present, use outdoors only, always have water handy (a garden hose and bucket), light only one firework at a time, and never give fireworks to small children. For a complete list of safety guidelines, visit http://www.swfd.org/fireworks.php.

For more information on fireworks safety, please visit http://www.swfd.org or call the South Walton Fire District at 850-267-1298.