Drought and fireworks a dangerous formula for Forestry Commission

South Carolina measures drought conditions in five categories: normal, incipient, moderate, severe and extreme.

Right now, all of the Pee Dee (excluding Sumter County) and the Grand Strand stand in the middle of that scale at moderate.

The National Weather Service in Wilmington says since the beginning of the year, the Florence area is down 7.44 inches of rainfall from its average, the North Myrtle Beach area is down 3.46 inches, and the Lumberton area is down 7.12 inches.

With the drier than normal conditions and the upcoming Fourth of July holiday around the corner, the South Carolina Forestry Commission is urging people to use common sense when dealing with fireworks. ""Fires in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida have been in the headlines, along with several in our state and folks are worried," says SCFC's Scott Hawkins.

He says a number of people have called the commission's office asking the agency to ban fireworks, but the Forestry Commission doesn't have the legal authority to stop people from shooting fireworks, no matter how dangerous the conditions may be.

The commission has seen a 46 percent decrease in their budget since 2008 and with less man power, less money and aging equipment, they hope people will take advantage of public fireworks displays and not take chances this holiday weekend.

"That expression, 'you're playing with fire,' is taking on a more literal meaning right now," Hawkins said. "Ground fuels around the state are dry and ready to ignite."

But it's not only the men and women who plan to shoot fireworks this weekend getting a closer look from state agencies. This year, the state's Fire Marshal's office is inspecting all firework sellers, temporary and permanent buildings.

"There was no specific situation that led to the change of us looking at firework stands," says Fire Marshal Terry Porter. He oversees the Horry and Georgetown Counties jurisdiction. "Legislators felt the Fire Marshals should keep an eye over it and now we issue the county license that sellers must have before they are able to sell fireworks."

Fire Marshals inspections include what fireworks sellers can and can't have, flame breaks, the height of the products and the open and closed views of the fireworks.

"We know that fireworks are an important part of the holiday for many South Carolinians," says Forestry Commisson veteran Brad Bramlett. "So if you have to use them, please make sure you're using them as safely as possible."

The commission asks people follow these tips if they plan to shoot fireworks themselves.

- Know what the local laws say about fireworks in your area

- Always make sure there's adult supervision around

- Do not shoot fireworks toward wooded areas

- If a firework does land in a wooded area, go check it to BE SURE that it is completely extinguished

- Have water handy (garden hose connected to the house and/or buckets of water)

- Make sure to shoot fireworks from a hard surface

- Refrain from shooting fireworks on windy days

- Afterward, monitor the area where the fireworks were used to make sure nothing is burning