CLEVELAND, Ohio - Much of the state of Ohio spent Thursday under a National Weather Service 'Red Flag Alert.' Hot temperatures combined with low relative humidity and strong gusty winds have created what officials describe as a 'critical fire risk' across the Buckeye state.
The warning, in part, helped convince community and fire officials in Kent to err on the side of caution and cancel a fireworks show planned for this Saturday.
“The decision wasn’t a snap decision, we are trying to consider the safety of all of the residents,” said Kent Fire Lieutenant Craig Peeps.
The Heritage Festival fireworks show was planned to be fired from Kramer Ballfields, where the grass is extremely dry.
“The site that we are using is right down by the river. It’s got lots of grassy areas and trees it also incorporates a park where currently we have no access because a bridge is out so if we shoot and we have a fire in that area that we can’t get to put it out then it can escalate,” said Peeps.
Peeps says city officials were also concerned about nearby homes and are not willing to take any risks.
The decision to cancel the show is disappointing to some Kent residents.
“I think it’s kind of messed up because we are all looking forward, its July fourth week and we want to see some fireworks,” said Amy Bradford.
Others understand after surveying all of the dry yards around the community.
Peeps said planners believe that even if it rains between now and the weekend the ground is so dry that it would do little to decrease the threat.
The State Fire Marshal is urging safety officials to water down areas immediately before their display, to re-direct the fallout by moving the fireworks or angling the mortars, to increase the separation distance between the fireworks and the areas containing fire hazards and to increase the amount of firefighters and equipment in the immediate area.
The National Fire Prevention Association, or NFPA, says the 4th of July ordinarily brings more fires across the country than on any other day of the year. The NFPA says the day brings twice as many fires as an average day.
This year's bone dry conditions leading up to the holiday could create an even greater risk.
"The conditions are conducive for fire. More than it usually is, and especially with the normal hazard associated with fireworks, we are at an increased vulnerability this year with these dry conditions," said Nick Zamiska, a firefighter with the Valley Fire District on the edge of the National Parks near Hudson.
The fire district is prepared to battle any spontaneous wildfires in the park. But the greatest fire risk comes from people being careless and one spark from home fireworks can ignite a very serious blaze.
The NFPA says even under the best of conditions fireworks are a concern.
Fountains, novelties and even sparklers are designed to throw off showers of hot sparks with temperatures exceeding 1200 degrees.
Bottle rockets can end up on dry rooftops or in cracks where they can easily spark damaging and even deadly fires. Once they are launched they will go wherever the wind takes them.
But firefighters say because some fireworks end up wherever the wind takes them you might need to also water your neighbor's yard and their neighbor's yard too. Just to be safe.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources urges all Ohio residents to be vigilant.
ODNR recommends keeping grass trimmed, not discarding cigarettes and other smoking materials outside and the proper care of open cooking fires and campfires.
Fire experts suggest everyone simply enjoy the displays that are put on by communities across the area and leave fireworks to the professionals.
But they know that countless people will be setting off their own fireworks anyway,
"It seems like the obvious and common sense should prevail but a lot of people go ahead and they want to enjoy fireworks," said Zameska. "And with these kind of conditions you are putting yourself at a bigger risk. The fallout that occurs from the fireworks puts not only yourself at hazard but your neighbors."