SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KETK)- As of Wednesday, 16 counties are now listed under active fire bans in East Texas as we approach the Fourth of July celebrations.

“As the summer has progressed, we’ve consistently seen lack of rainfall and very unseasonably hot temperatures and low humidities,” said Rusk County Fire Marshal, Terry Linder.

Due to an escalation of drought-like conditions, Smith County fire has been responding to about eight fires a day. As of Tuesday, the drought index for Smith County has been at a 628 average. The Smith County Fire Marshal, Jay Brooks, says worries of a fire ban don’t arise until the index reaches 700.

“We have an inch and 3/4 of moisture in our ground right now. So, we are definitely seeing that dry out fast. Also, our fires are starting to increase in numbers and in severity. I’m in constant communication with the county judge, and we’re possibly looking at a burn ban in the near future,” said Brooks.

With the Fourth of July only days away, fire officials are urging the community to never leave a fire unattended and follow instructions on the label when lighting a firecracker.

“Last year, our summer was considerably wetter than what we’re having this year. But, this is a more typical summer here in East Texas. It has exacerbated a little bit with the La Niña situation we have. So, unfortunately, I am concerned that we could see toward the end of the summer, a more 2011 scenario playing out,” said Brooks.

Over in Rusk County, fire bans have not been put in place. Fire officials all over East Texas are overwhelmed with the number of active fires a day.

“Between January and February, we saw almost 200 outdoor fires. Three of which were over 100 acres. Fortunately, we aren’t there now. But, if we don’t get rainfall soon we will be at risk to see those big numbers,” said Linder.

As firefighters continue to battle flames in our region, make sure to enjoy the Fourth of July, safely and responsibly.

“Alcohol and fireworks, do not mix, ever. Also, use the firework as it’s instructed on the label. Because that is the number one cause for injury and for fire. Many are not using fireworks the way they are intended to be used,” said Brooks.

Our East Texas firefighters are in need of your help. If you would like to become a volunteer firefighter or donate cases of water, please contact your nearest local fire department.