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Fire chiefs: Use safety, common sense during Fourth of July activities


Carl Smith



Local fire chiefs want county residents to enjoy safe Fourth of July traditions like grilling out and watching fireworks, but their respective organizations are ready to respond if any celebrations get out of hand. 


Fireworks pose the greatest risk to body and property, Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann and Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said, and those who choose to shoot the popular explosives in the allowed areas should exercise an abundance of caution when doing so. 


Firework usage is allowed in the outlying Lowndes and Oktibbeha county, but is banned in the city limits of both Starkville and Columbus. 


While the city of Columbus does not have a planned celebration, Starkville Parks and Recreation will begin its annual Fourth of July celebration 6 p.m. at the Sportsplex. A city-authorized firework show will begin when it gets dark, about 8:45 p.m., according to Director Herman Peters. 


"Fireworks do not usually get out of hand in Starkville, but we still worry about their effects in high density areas like apartment complexes," Mann said. 


In 2010, three Crossgates Apartments buildings were destroyed after a cigarette ignited pine straw near a flowerbed. Four others were damaged by smoke and heat. 


"That fire is a perfect example of what could go wrong. Anytime you have heat and wind like that, you worry about fires at apartment complexes," Mann said. "Had the wind not been blowing like that, the initial fire might not have gotten out of hand." 


If you do decide to shoot fireworks in the allowed county areas, Rosenhan said to do so away from structures, wear protection and always keep a water source nearby. 


"Burn, explosion and shrapnel injuries are always a concern this time of year. Fireworks sometimes can go bad and not explode, so remember to douse a faulty firework and leave it alone. Never approach an unexploded firework after it malfunctions," he said. 


Outdoor grillers should also exercise caution when preparing traditional Fourth of July meals. Always move your grill at least 10 feet away from a structure and never operate it under combustible awnings or decks, Mann said.  


A grill fire turned a two-story Summer Chase Apartments structure into a total loss in 2012 after it ignited combustible material above one unit's porch. SFD routinely responds to fires started by improper and unattended cooking, Mann said. 


"Follow the manufacturer's instructions when grilling. They'll be clearly labeled on the grill," he said. "It's always best to keep a water hose or fire extinguisher nearby, just in case. Also, be mindful of how you dispose of hot charcoals, because those embers can quickly ignite and fuel a fire." 


Residents should also drink plenty of water during outdoor events. A cold front that brought in mid-week rains broke a recent 90-degree weather streak, and a high of 84 is forecasted for the Fourth.  


Despite the reprieve from heat, Mann and Rosenhan said dehydration can still strike those who spend most of their Fourth outside in the sun. 


"Accidents do occur, but you can quickly get the situation under control if you're prepared," Mann said. "This is why our doors never close, though. If there's a problem, call 911 quickly. The sooner we're notified, the sooner we can get on scene and help."


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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