As the Fourth of July approaches, Myrtle Beach officials are warning that fireworks are illegal within city limits, with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
“It’s a year-round issue for us, that’s a lot busier from June until the first day of August,” said PFC Justin Falco, a beach patrol officer with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
In South Carolina, fireworks regulations differ by locality. Myrtle Beach bars the sale, possession and use of fireworks within city limits. However, many wrongly believe they are permitted when spotting fireworks outlets in unincorporated parts of Horry County, where sales are legal and fireworks can be set off until 11:00 p.m.
Falco said this is especially the case with tourists who are unfamiliar with local ordinances, a trend that is likely to continue this year given the comeback of the hospitality industry.
“Sales have been fantastic, higher than usual,” said Michelle Turner, manager of Phantom Fireworks. “We have a tremendous amount of tourists come in, but we do see some locals.”
Falco said the first offense for launching fireworks within city limits typically results in a warning and confiscation.
“We want to increase our relationship with community, so if we can achieve verbal compliance, we will,” he said. “But if we’ve warned you once and see it again, a citation will be in order.”
According to Falco, MBPD monitors areas deemed hotspots for fireworks, such as the north end of the town from 54th to 77th Avenue North.
“The void in fireworks activity in residential areas lends credence to the idea that most violators are tourists,” he explained.
Myrtle Beach isn't the only spot along the Grand Strand with fireworks restrictions. They are also illegal to shoot off on beaches in North Myrtle Beach, and Surfside Beach's ordinance bars firework deployment without permission from town council, only permitting individuals to store, possess and shoot fireworks within town limits on the Fourth of July. Fireworks in Surfside can only be launched "in the area between the mean high water mark eastward to the Atlantic Ocean" on the Fourth of July, the ordinance states.
MBPD employs several different vehicles to navigate across different terrains, such as golf carts, four-wheelers and pick-up trucks, as well as standard police cruisers.
This helps monitor public beaches along the downtown shore, another hotspot.
“There’s usually a good handful of dune fires from fireworks during Memorial Day weekend,” said Capt. Jonathan Evans, public information officer for the Myrtle Beach Fire Department.
Falco has seen three dune fires this year, as has his colleague on MBPD Beach Patrol, Shawn Gulledge.
“There are ordinances against open fires on the beach,” Falco said. “If it starts a fire, I would say that’s jailable.”
In addition to safety risks, fireworks can present serious environmental hazards, officials warn.
“Sea oats, the grass in the dunes, can catch fire,” Falco said. “Those are protected. They protect against erosion and when they get burned we have to wait for them to grow back."
Cpl. Tom Vest, spokesman for MBPD, added that disciplinary action becomes more likely late at night.
“You may not know it’s illegal here, but you should know it’s very disruptive at 2 a.m. regardless of where you are,” he said. “You may have veterans nearby who may be disturbed by fireworks.”
Both MBPD and MBFD recommended that people see planned shows.
“When there’s a planned show, people know it’s coming and aren’t surprised,” said Vest.
Falco added: "If there’s a show that’s permitted, it has a safety plan that includes firefighters and EMS."