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The Fourth of July holiday is a time to get outdoors and have fun in the national forests in West Virginia. But wildlife managers say to leave fireworks at home. Possessing, igniting, discharging or using any kind of fireworks is prohibited on national forest system lands.
“Setting off fireworks in the forest is not only illegal, it is also a hazardous activity that can lead to injury and wildfires,” said Aaron Kendall, fire management officer for the Monongahela National Forest. “We encourage forest visitors to enjoy public fireworks displays in one of the communities in and around West Virginia.”
Eric Douglas spoke with Kendall to talk about fireworks and fire danger.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Fireworks of any kind are illegal on national public lands. We’re talking even sparklers as much as stuff that goes flying up in the air.
Kendall: That’s correct. Whether they’re handheld or they’re aerial or anything along those lines out there, they’re all illegal. Most of the country, and even here in West Virginia, can be very dry. And one simple spark from any of that could start a very devastating wildfire.
Douglas: What is the fire danger right now?
Kendall: It depends. Generally in the whole state it’s what you would consider moderate in our scale, but there are some areas that are shadowed from the rain. Here in the Elkins area, we have a lot of rain, and so it’s a little less likely to have some type of wildfire, but you go just a little bit to the east of us, on the other side of ridge over towards Petersburg, or White Sulphur Springs on that side of the forest and it’s a different story. They don’t get nearly as much precipitation. The fire danger can change more rapidly down there.
Douglas: What would be your message to people, not in national forest lands, but in their backyard or out in the woods somewhere?
Kendall: You want to make sure you are doing it in a safe way so you’re going to be able to enjoy it, and hopefully not cause any injury or any type of fire. Obviously, it’s best to be under adult supervision at all times when fireworks are being used.
More importantly, from a fire aspect, you want to make sure that if you’re going to be setting off anything that has some type of spark or flame, that is done in a clear area that’s devoid of vegetation so that if it does fall over or hit the ground that it’s not going to spark a fire. Having some type of water source on hand is also very important. Whether you’ve got a hose or a bucket, or whatever you have, so that if you do have something that starts, you’re able to extinguish them quickly.
Some towns also have different policies from the state. Check with your local officials before attempting to set off fireworks.
The public should call 911 in case of emergency; incidents in the forest can also be reported via the Mid-Atlantic Coordination Center 24-hour dispatch line at (717) 980-3230.
The use or possession of fireworks on public lands is subject to confiscation and fines of up to $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization and/or up to six months in jail. In addition, anyone found responsible for starting a wildfire can be held civilly and criminally liable.