MANATEE -- Manatee County has received a paltry 0.15 inches of rain so far this month, a far cry from the 7.41 inches that is normal for the first month of the rainy season.
The county has a 40 percent chance of rain today, said Richard Rude, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
Due to the lack of rain, Manatee County is listed as a potential site of wildfires, according to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, used by the Florida Department of Forestry to measure the saturation of soil and plant conditions.
In fact, the state is so dry that Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency and many counties are banning burning and even their July Fourth fireworks.
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The Florida Division of Forestry said Friday that 3,427 fires have burned more than 194,000 acres in the state, moving 2011 into 11th place in the all-time rankings. The worst year in recorded history was 1989, when 7,175 fires burned more than 645,000 acres
But fans of the upcoming fireworks shows in Manatee don’t need to worry.
The popular light displays over the water in Palmetto and near Ed Chiles’ Beach House Restaurant on Anna Maria Island both have a green light to go this year despite the county’s severe dryness, said Nick Azarra, a county spokesman.
Both events fall under municipal ordinances that require local fire officials to sign off on them and they have, Azarra said.
However, the popular Heritage Harbour fireworks, since it is in the unincorporated county, could fall under a county ordinance that states that if Manatee’s drought index is 650 or greater for three consecutive 24-hour periods, any use of fireworks, including a public display, is prohibited.
Heritage Harbour has not yet submitted a request for its 2011 fireworks show and county officials plan to call the community next week to work closely with them if they still plan to put the show on, Azarra said.
“I don’t want people to think we will cancel any July 4 show,” Azarra said. The July Fourth Festival in Palmetto, held near the Green Bridge fishing pier, is the biggest public display of fireworks in the county and is a low wildfire threat because the fireworks explode over water.
“For the last three years we have even shut down the Green Bridge to guard against any ash causing a fire,” said Geoff Seger, director of parks and recreation in the city of Palmetto and the man who has fired off the rockets in Palmetto the last 15 years.
The Palmetto show is actually the county and city of Bradenton show as well since all three entities chip in $10,000 apiece for 30 minutes of “thunder.” Seger said.
The Green Bridge is closed from 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. July 4 and the fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. and run until 10 p.m.
About 12,000 people pack the Palmetto side of the river alone, sitting 1,100 feet back from the firing area, Seger said.
Fans also flock to Rossi Waterfront Park on the Bradenton side of the Manatee River and other spots to take in the show.
“Our show is like a fireworks finale from start to finish,” Seger added. “We have enough shells to do an hour show, but the Florida Department of Transportation doesn’t like shutting the bridge down for long, so we pack an hour into a half hour.”
In Manatee County, sparklers and pop caps are legal to use even this year, Azarra said.
But firecrackers, torpedoes, sky rockets, Roman candles and others that shoot and explode are illegal anytime in the county and are especially dangerous this year.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office plans to be more diligent this year in overseeing the use of the illegal fireworks to guard against wildfires because of the dry conditions.
“First of all, we are hoping we will get some rain,” said Dave Bristow, a sheriff’s office spokesman. “But if it does come to that point, people should realize that these items can cause wildfires. They are definitely dangerous.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.