Beaufort News

Fireworks a safety, wildfire hazard over holiday weekend, local fire officials say

Rock Purdy entices customer George Days of Beaufort with a $35 package of 4,000 firecrackers in a container shaped like a giant firecracker at Purdy's fireworks stand in Okatie. Purdy said that once lit, the 4,000 firecrackers would explode nonstop for about 10 minutes.
Rock Purdy entices customer George Days of Beaufort with a $35 package of 4,000 firecrackers in a container shaped like a giant firecracker at Purdy's fireworks stand in Okatie. Purdy said that once lit, the 4,000 firecrackers would explode nonstop for about 10 minutes. Jay Karr, The Island Packet

Because drought conditions linger in Beaufort County, local fire officials hope residents will not celebrate the nation's 235th birthday by lighting fireworks or other devices that might set fire to the area's tinder-dry brush.

Recent thunderstorms might have supplied some badly needed rain, but the county still is experiencing a moderate drought that could threaten agriculture and increase the risk of wildfires, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' Climatology Office.

Given those conditions, area fire officials fear this weekend might be one spent extinguishing fires caused by improperly used fireworks.

"Fireworks and drought just don't mix," said Lee Levesque, spokesman for the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District. "Combining any kind of firework with the dry conditions we have right now is a recipe for disaster. We strongly suggest that area residents attend any of the number of fireworks displays being put on by local organizations, all of which are permitted and will be well-staffed by area medical personnel."

In addition to being potentially dangerous, discharging fireworks without a permit is illegal in Beaufort County.

Ordinances prohibit residents in the city of Beaufort, towns of Port Royal, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, and in the unincorporated parts of Beaufort County from setting off fireworks without a permit. Violating these ordinances ispunishable by fines up to $500.

Local fire officials say there might be an even higher price to pay for improperly using fireworks.

U.S. hospital emergency rooms expect to treat about 9,000 patients this year with fireworks-related injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. More than half of those injuries will be burns, the association reports.

Of those patients, nearly one-third will be younger than 15.

"The most important thing is putting fireworks in the proper perspective. They are, in fact, explosives," said Burton Fire Chief Harry Rountree. "We're also asking adults to be responsible around children, who are the most often injured on this holiday, to set the proper example for them."

For fireworks safety tips, visit http://www.fireworksafety.com/safety.htm.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

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