Fireworks pose risk in Boone County due to dry weather

Monday, July 2, 2012 | 7:50 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 2, 2012

COLUMBIA — The dangers of firework displays, compounded by record-breaking highs and persistent dry weather, are causing a lot of worry in Columbia and Boone County.

There were several brush fires within city limits over the weekend that officials say they believe were started by fireworks. These fires were small, and there were no reports of injuries or property damage, according to a news release from the Columbia Fire Department.

Record-setting heat wave

The current heat wave already has set two records for high temperatures on specific dates and has the potential to set more. Here's a quick look.

Thursday (June 28): Record high 107, set this year. Previous record was 103, set in 1936.

Friday (June 29): Record high 104, set in 1901 and tied this year.

Saturday (June 30): Record high 103, set in 1901. This year's high was 102.

Sunday (July 1): Record high 110, set in 1980. This year's high was 102.

Monday (July 2): Record high 102, set in 1901. This year's high was 101.

Tuesday (July 3): Record high 104, set in 1901. The forecast high this year was 100.

Wednesday (July 4): Record high 106, set in 1901. The forecast high this year was 102.

Thursday (July 5): Record high 105, set in 1911. The forecast high this year was 101.

Friday (July 6): Record high 101, set in 1939. The forecast high this year was 101.

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"Unfortunately, as the unseasonable dry conditions persist, an elevated fire danger remains," Columbia Fire Capt. John Metz said in the release. "Any spark or open flame could cause a fire that can quickly grow out of control."

Discharging fireworks within the city is prohibited by ordinance, but fireworks are not banned throughout Boone County. Neither the Boone County Sheriff's Department nor the Boone County Commission has the authority to ban fireworks because the non-charter county lacks the authority to pass ordinances. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said Gov. Jay Nixon might be the only state official with the authority to establish a ban.

Several Missouri towns have cancelled public fireworks shows or banned all fireworks because of the dry conditions. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Arnold, Chesterfield and Kirkwood are among the cities that have cancelled fireworks shows.

Places such as St. Louis and Springfield routinely ban backyard fireworks, but several more are doing so this year, according to The Associated Press. Those include New Madrid, Matthews, Bloomfield, Advance, Bell City, Essex, Bertrand and Fair Grove.

The Associated Press reported that officials in Cape Girardeau have strongly advised residents not to use fireworks. While they discussed an outright ban, officials didn't think it would be enforceable.

"So instead, we're hoping to discourage people from using fireworks," Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Rick Ennis told The Associated Press. "We're hoping people have enough common sense that they won't do it this year."

The Missouri Department of Conservation has also banned fireworks and all manners of fire in its recreation and wild areas statewide.

Columbia and Boone County residents are encouraged to attend the city's "Fire in the Sky" fireworks on Wednesday evening instead of discharging fireworks on their own. The show begins downtown around 9 p.m.

Residents who have complaints about fireworks in town are advised to contact Public Safety Joint Communications' non-emergency phone number at 442-6131 rather than dialing 911.

Water and electricity use

City officials are also keeping an eye on utility customers' water and electricity use. Although neither has approached capacity, there's a chance the city will urge conservation if forecasts for continued heat and drought persist.

Customers of the Columbia Water and Light Department used more water and electricity in June than any other month so far this year. Water use peaked Friday, when the amount of water pumped from the treatment plant into the distribution center reached 22.84 million gallons, utility services specialist Connie Kacprowicz said.

On average, 19 million gallons of water were pumped per day in June, Kacprowicz said. The lowest amount of water pumped last month was 14.3 million gallons, on June 17.

Kacprowicz said that if the amount of water pumped in a single day reaches between 24 million and 28 million gallons in a single day, the department will evaluate whether it needs to ask people to conserve.

"We've been keeping up with demand so far," she said. "We don't want people to waste it, though."

Kacprowicz said electric use peaked this year at 262 megawatts on Thursday. Last year, the peak was 277 megawatts on Aug. 2..

To conserve electricity, Kacprowicz said customers should try to delay the use of multiple major appliances during the hottest points of the day, between noon and 7 p.m.

Columbia Water and Light can employ about 19,000 load-management switches if nearing peak electric consumption, she said. Customers who have signed up have radio control switches on their air conditioning units, which turn off their compressor motors for 7.5 minutes each half hour to rotate the demand. In exchange, they get a 3 percent discount on their electric bills during the summer months.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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