CHAMPAIGN – Drought that covers much of Illinois and this week’s heat wave are combining to steal some of the spark from the Fourth of July.
A handful of Illinois towns have called off public fireworks shows in fear they could start fires, and others are pondering a similar move. Some towns hope to reschedule fireworks shows once hot, dry weather eases.
As temperatures across much of the state reached the 90s and 100s again Friday, Plainfield Deputy Fire Chief Jon Stratton said local officials in that small town near Joliet decided they’d rather disappoint city residents than risk fires.
“Why take a chance?” Stratton said Friday. “It’s easier to reschedule rather than trying to explain [a fire].”
Plainfield, Harrisburg in southern Illinois – where drought conditions are worst – Mount Pulaski, Murphysboro and the southeastern Illinois town of Paris all called off fireworks shows by Friday. In Paris, local officials held out some slim hope.
“Unless we get a big rain, the only thing allowable right now is a cook grill,” Paris Fire Chief Brian Gates said.
National Weather Service forecasts for Paris call for nothing but clear skies and more heat through Wednesday. Assuming the show won’t happen, the town plans to reschedule when it’s safer, Gates said.
Most of Illinois is enduring at least moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Rain has been scarce for weeks and this week brought extreme heat, with highs in many places Thursday and Friday of 100 degrees or more. Burn bans have become common across the state over the past couple of weeks.
The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office is urging people to skip the use of even less-powerful fireworks this year, though it has no plans to restrict either public or personal fireworks use beyond existing state law, spokeswoman Milly Santiago said Friday.
Many fireworks are already illegal for personal use in Illinois.
“For now that is the message, basically for people to stay away from fireworks, period, and go to the public displays, which are safer,” Santiago said.
The list of cities calling off fireworks shows could grow.
Carbondale, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis, is considering the idea.
And in Belleville, east of St. Louis, Mayor Mark Eckert explored the possibility of an executive order banning fireworks use for the time being, since action by the City Council would take 10 days to take effect. In the meantime, with a string of 100-degree days ahead in the local forecast, he’s pleading with residents to not burn anything outdoors.
“We are voluntarily asking citizens to totally stop burning everything — no type of open burning or fireworks at all during this period of high temperatures, dry heat and no rain,” Eckert told the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper.