MUNSTER — Indiana's worsening drought is raising concerns that Fourth of July fireworks could spark sizable fires.
Abnormally dry conditions cover most of the state and a large portion of northern Indiana is experiencing a moderate drought that has left lawns and fields parched, elevating the risk of fires.
State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson told The Times of Munster for a story published Sunday that it isn't just municipalities' pyrotechnic shows that pose a threat. He said small fireworks, cookouts and bonfires could also spark fires.
"In these dry conditions, fires can ignite and spread very quickly," Greeson said.
As of Sunday afternoon, 20 Indiana counties had banned outdoor burning and some are considering extending that ban to cover fireworks.
While the dry conditions concern fire officials in the northern Indiana communities of Hobart, Schererville and Hammond, officials have no immediate plans to ban fireworks.
Bob Patterson, Schererville's fire chief, said using fireworks in dry weather is always a concern, but he isn't aware of any plan to restrict fireworks beyond current rules.
Police in Hobart, Hammond, Cedar Lake and Lake Station, also in northern Indiana, said they will enforce local and state ordinances.
"If the weather stays like it is, we will be strictly enforcing the ordinance that we have on the books," Cedar Lake Police Chief Randall Mayersky said.
Hobart Police Chief Jeff White said his department is taking a zero-tolerance stance on anyone shooting fireworks outside of designated times and dates.
An Indiana ordinance that most communities follow states that consumer fireworks are to be used only from 5 to 10 p.m. June 29 through July 3; 10 a.m. to midnight July 4; 5 to 10 p.m. July 5 through 9 ;and 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
In counties without burn bans, the state Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning asking people not to set off fireworks, but to be careful if they choose to do so.
Capt. Ron Lipps of the Fishers Fire Department in north suburban Indianapolis said fireworks tend to generate "a lot of silliness" and unsafe behavior among holiday revelers. He said every year someone inevitably throws fireworks in a trash can and it goes up in flames.
"We can't be at everybody's backyard display, and if things go wrong there and people aren't prepared or operating safely, we could have a little bit of a problem," he told WISH-TV.
Lipps advises area residents that if they do set off fireworks or use an open fire, the ashes or used fireworks should be put in a bucket of water for at least 24 hours.
The state fire marshal offers the following dry weather fire safety tips:
Store fireworks in a cool, dry area. When using fireworks, always have a fire extinguisher, water supply, hose or bucket of water nearby.
Be cautious when lighting fireworks when it is windy and avoid lighting them on or near dry grass, fields, shrubs or other vegetation. If fireworks do ignite a fire, contact your local fire department or 911 immediately. Do not attempt to extinguish a large fire by yourself.