LITTLE ROCK — The state Forestry Commission asked local officials Wednesday to keep the wraps on most fireworks this Independence Day to limit fire danger amid the drought.
The commission sent a letter to the County Judges Association of Arkansas strongly encouraging county judges who have not done so already to impose burn bans, and to include prohibiting the discharge of all fireworks except those expressly permitted by the county judge.
“With the incendiary nature — literally — of handheld fireworks, bottle rockets, all those things we like to do on the 4th of July, the forests, grass and pastures are cinder boxes,” state Forester Joe Fox said. “We all like to celebrate July 4, but we think the safety of our citizens and firefighters takes top priority.”
All but 21 of the 75 counties had burn bans in effect Wednesday, according to the commission. Preston Scroggin, the Faulkner County judge and president of the County Judges Association of Arkansas, said he sent Fox’s request to the other 74 county judges Wednesday.
“I’m advising them that with the severity of the situation we’re facing, we need to ban the discharge of fireworks,” Scroggin said.
He said cities and property owners associations across his county had canceled fireworks displays.
“In my case, I had granted some permits three or four weeks ago. Things just kept getting worse and worse and I had to yank those,” Scroggin said. “I had no choice, it’s just that dry here.
“I farm for a living, and (conditions) are as dry as I’ve ever seen them in my lifetime. It’s bad.”
In an intergovernmental meeting Tuesday, mayors in Pope County voted to ban the private and public discharge of fireworks during the Independence Day holiday in light of a county-wide burn ban in effect.
Officials elsewhere also have canceled fireworks displays, including Hot springs, Searcy and Batesville. Temperatures rose past the century mark this week — weeks earlier than normal, deepening drought conditions brought on by weeks without significant rainfall in the state.
The last measurable rainfall in Little Rock was June 12, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service said rainfall so far in June totaled 1.59 inches, 1.29 inches below normal for the month. So far this year, rainfall has totaled 18.88 inches, 5.82 inches below normal.
The state forecast is “more hot, dry weather, no rain for the next 10 days,” NWS meteorologist Joe Goudsword said.
The Forestry Commission classified the fire danger as high in all of the state’s 75 counties Wednesday.
The agency worked 20 forest fires Tuesday, including at least one in each of its eight fire districts for the first time this year. The blazes scorched 240 acres, Fox said.
“We’re at about twice the acres of suppressed fires so far in 2012 than this time in 2011, and 2011 was a pretty bad year.”