CARROLL COUNTY -- While some areas of the county are banning fireworks outright over the Fourth of July holiday, others are issuing stern cautions and warnings. Extreme unseasonable temperatures and low humidity make the perfect setup for wildland and other dangerous fires, and it has city and county officials on edge.
Holiday Island Fire Chief Jack Deaton said that while the community will have its annual fireworks display at the Recreation Center, personal fireworks are banned, not only at the Point down by the marina, where they've been allowed in the past, but all over Holiday Island as well.
"I've studied the temperature, wind and moisture for the next 10 days, and it doesn't look good," he said.
He issued a letter to Holiday Island district and rural residents, first apologizing if it spoils anyone's Fourth celebration, "but at the same time we want to keep you safe."
"The fire danger is very high any type of fireworks, no matter how small, have the potential to start a fire."
He said there will be no private fireworks allowed in Holiday Island, including the rural area outside the district boundaries but served by the fire department.
"Any report of fireworks being shot will be reported to the Carroll County Sheriff, and I am told they will be confiscating fireworks," the letter states. "Citations can be issued for violating a county-wide burn ban."
Deaton said last year personal fireworks on the night of the Fourth started two fires in his fire protection area, one in Holiday Island and one in Beaver Meadows. In both cases, the fire department got there early enough and kept the fires from spreading.
Two weeks ago, a kid shot off a bottle rocket that bounced across the street and started a grass fire.
A week ago, another out-of-control fire was actually burning green grass. A man had been burning brush and thought he had put it out. The wind picked up and rekindled it," Deaton said.
This year, weather conditions have created a tinderbox. High heat, low humidity and lack of rain are a dangerous combination.
"Temperatures in 90s and triple digits and humidity below 40 are the perfect conditions for disaster," Deaton explained, and added the county is in "very high danger of wildland fire.
"I'll be busy this year, with our fire trucks at the celebration at the Recreation Center. We'll be wetting down the area around the shooting platform and will have our trucks stationed there. We don't need to be pulling trucks to go fight fires elsewhere."
He said if a person starts a fire during a burn ban, they can get up to a $2,500 fine and jail time.
He said also, "People don't understand that if your fireworks start a fire on neighbors' property, you're liable for any damages."
In the past, Holiday Island has allowed people to go to the Point to shoot off fireworks, but Deaton said he is not feeling comfortable with that this year.
"It's a safety matter. Even if there is no problem with shooting them there, if people from surrounding areas hear we are allowing it and come in droves to be able to shoot their fireworks, they'll be lined up trying to get in, and it could prevent us from getting out for an emergency."
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs will hold its official display but will not allow personal fireworks this year, nor sell them at its event as in years past.
In Eureka Springs, fireworks are banned within the city limits, and Fire Chief Rhys Williams said he is urging everyone not to shoot off personal fireworks this year in the rural areas as well because of the danger.
Some cities, like Green Forest and Berryville, have cancelled their official fireworks display altogether, although Berryville hopes to reschedule later when weather conditions improve.
Anyone who doubts the devastation of a wildfire need only look at current national news. Wildfires in Colorado have doubled in size in the last few days, with 35,000 people evacuated as of this writing from their homes and businesses, reports CNN. The fire has engulfed 15,500 acres and is only 5 percent contained.
"We have rehearsed and practiced disasters," said Dave Rose, public information officer for El Paso County. "We have never seen one like this before."
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