Celebrating the Fourth of July traditionally includes remembering the founding of the country. Families gather, have picnics, eat watermelon and hamburgers, and for this year in Ellis County, shoot fireworks.

The Ellis County Commission decided a few weeks ago to allow fireworks from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. July 2 to 4, following the Hays City Commission, which relaxed its ban.

However, fireworks are permanently banned in the county due to drought conditions unless the rules are relaxed by the commission — such as this year, so far. Each year, the commission can decide whether to relax the ban.

Rural Fire Chief Darin Myers had several reminders for individuals who choose to shoot.

“Use common sense,” he said. “Be courteous to your neighbors.”

He said most likely in the county, there will be fields of wheat that have been harvested by July 4, leaving dry wheat stubble and dead or dry weeds in ditches. Fire danger is higher in the rural area, unlike town, because there is little grass turf, which is generally watered.

Also, because the county uses volunteer firefighters, Myers said, and it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to the station, and then another 10 to 15 minutes to arrive on scene, which could allow for a more serious fire.

He urged rural citizens to set off their fireworks on a surface such as gravel, to keep a hose or water nearby, pick up fireworks after they had been discharged and put them in water so any embers will not ignite. Embers can smoulder in places where they can’t be seen in rural areas.

Chinese lanterns, also called sky lanterns, are always prohibited because of the inherent fire danger, regardless of any action by the fire chief or commission. The sky lanterns are small, hot air balloons made of paper with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.

Myers said firework stands in Hays are inspected by Hays Fire Department to ensure only fireworks legal to shoot can be purchased in town.

The commission passed a resolution Monday which better defines penalties for illegal discharge of fireworks, said County Administrator Greg Sund. The fine for illegal discharging is up to $500.