Even as thunderstorms brought rain Friday morning, officials in many towns were working to mitigate the effects of the dangerous combination of fireworks and dry conditions.
When vegetation is lacking moisture, it's at risk of catching fire when exposed to even a discarded cigarette butt, Aurora deputy fire chief John Lehman said. With the severe hot, dry conditions of recent days expected to still be in place as the Fourth of July approaches -- and the fireworks that come along with it -- fire officials are prepared to be on high alert.
"We're going to increase our working force and attempt to put another vehicle on the street to serve the call volume we're anticipating," Lehman said.
Ken Komers, assistant fire chief and head of the Fire Prevention Bureau in Libertyville, said the community had to place a ban on open burning until Aug. 1. The village is working on a public awareness campaign, urging citizens to avoid situations they might otherwise think safe that the drought has made risky.
"We just need residents to be aware of how dry it is and think before using any fireworks," Komers said.
Whether it's bottle rockets landing on the roof and igniting leaves, or mortar shells exploding from their tubes at inopportune moments and injuring the operator, fireworks are an inherently dangerous product, said David Dato, Wauconda fire chief, explaining that the dangers of the season go beyond the dry conditions.
In Wauconda, where they've already postponed the fireworks show because of the drought, Dato said the focus was on cracking down on those who set off explosives that are illegal in Illinois but often are brought in from other states.
"Our bottom line really is that you leave the shows up to the professionals," Dato said.
While fireworks injuries aren't particularly common, they're not rare, either. A survey of 78 hospitals conducted by the Illinois Division of Fire Prevention found 155 people injured by fireworks last year. While 75 percent of those injured were treated and released, 7 percent were hospitalized for more than 24 hours.
The problem doesn't begin and end with illegal fireworks, either.
Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the National Fire Prevention Agency, said there's a dangerous tendency among many to assume fireworks available in stores are safe. She said the group has an Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks, aimed at confining use to professionals in shows.
"The risk of fireworks injuries is highest for children between the ages of 5 and 14," Carli said. "The majority of injuries come from devices that are legally available, things like sparklers. Sparklers, in fact, account for the largest percentage of fireworks-related injuries."
Still, the weather has made it so that injuries aren't the only -- or even primary -- problem. Fire department presence will be increased at even professionally organized fireworks displays. That includes Aurora, Lehman said. Under current conditions, he explained, something as innocuous as a dropped sparkler could start a larger fire.
While the rain Friday was a refreshing change of pace, Lehman said it's not enough to saturate the dried-out land. Weather forecasts suggest the possibility of rain over the weekend, but officials have to prepare for the worst.
In Aurora, that's meant adjusting on the fly without much of a historical guideline.
"I can't really remember a time when we've had conditions like this within the last 10 to 15 years," Lehman said.