Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill fire officials urge safety on July 4

America's birthday is a time for celebration. It's a time for grilling out and enjoying the company of family and friends.

Public safety officials, however, want to remind residents that it's not a time for uncontrollable fires or someone getting seriously injured - or worse.

According to The National Fire Protection Association, on a typical Independence Day, more fires are reported in the U.S. than on any other day of the year and fireworks account for half of those fires. An NFPA report stated that most outdoor fireworks fires start in the grass, trash receptacles and forests.

"Every year there are loads of grass fires because the grass is dried out and a fire can start easier," said Capt. Bruce Byrnes of Flint Hill Fire Station 1. Byrnes has been fighting fires for 30 years.

Conditions are ripe for a fire due to lack of rain. Even if it rains this week, the last half of spring and the early part of summer have been so dry that drought conditions lingering from last year are not likely to get any better anytime soon.

"I've fought fires in the woods that have been as long as one acre," Byrnes said. "Those fires can take at least a few hours to put out."

Byrnes' firework safety tips include keeping a source of water nearby, avoid throwing hot ashes in the garbage, and discarding any fireworks that do not ignite.

"If a fuse burns out, do not try to re-light it, because you may not have enough time to get away," Byrnes said.

Daniel Tatalovich, manager of Phantom Fireworks in Fort Mill advises customers to buy a long-handled lighter that produces a long flame.

"A Pyro Torch has a flame that is a half an inch long and it gives you distance from the firework for when you are setting it off," Tatalovich said.

Tatalovich said a bucket of sand makes a good, safe launch pad for bottle rockets and for holding Roman candles.

According to the NFPA, 26 percent of fireworks-related injuries in the period around July 4, 2006, were because of bottle rockets and Roman candles. Thirty-seven percent of the injuries were to the hand or finger; 24 percent damaged eyes; 22 percent were head or face injuries; and 18 percent were "other."

Fort Mill Fire Department Chief Ken Kerber said he wishes people would use common sense.

"Fires start when debris from fireworks land on top of a home and sets the shingles on fire," Kerber explained.

The main message stressed by officials is, have fun this Fourth of July, but use common sense and stay safe.