June 22, 2011

More and more Texas counties restricting fireworks

The drought has created severe fire danger across the state.

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The drought that's drying out Texas has a growing number of county judges so worried that they're curtailing the use of fireworks.

Almost 130 counties have had fireworks bans approved, a spokeswoman with Gov. Rick Perry's office said.

"This is changing all the time, because more counties are asking for extensions," Lucy Nashed said.

State law allows local governments to ban fireworks for up to 60 hours. For a longer restriction, the governor's office must sign off.

Tarrant County commissioners declined to restrict fireworks use at their Tuesday meeting.

Officials in Denton, Johnson and Wise counties have also declined to issue bans, but Parker County Judge Mark Riley declared a state of disaster Monday that included a ban on the use of fireworks through July 5.

Using fireworks in unincorporated Parker County is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 plus court costs and seizure of the fireworks, county spokesman Joel Kertok said.

Inside most cities, mere possession of fireworks can lead to fines up to $2,000.

Fireworks go on sale to the public Friday, and distributors worry that denying the private use of fireworks could affect sales.

"The Parker County order could hurt public sales there," said Grady Yeiser, manager of TNT Fireworks wholesale in Azle, which has a large store on Interstate 20 in Parker County.

"There's nothing I can do about it," he said.

Roy Nelson of Nelson's Fireworks Outlet said he understands that a lot of people want such bans because they fear or even hate fireworks.

"My wife, Sheryl, the person I love most in the world, is not overly enthused with fireworks," he said. "But she knows that fireworks [sales] have sent our kids through college and that her husband loves fireworks."

Nelson has fireworks stores in Roanoke, Caddo Mills, Eagle Mountain Lake and Benbrook. He believes that recent rains have eased some people's concerns "right when we needed it. It keeps lowering the drought index. Guys down south are having a tough time of it. We're in reasonably good shape up here."

Fireworks can be shot only in unincorporated areas. Even out there, it's only legal on private property with the owner's permission, so roads and shoulders are off limits.

If it were up to Tarrant County Fire Marshal Randy Renois, there would be no place to shoot fireworks this summer. He said Perry should prohibit fireworks use across the state until conditions change.

"We are under a state disaster declaration for wildfires and have been since back around the first of the year," he said.

Renois said Tarrant is one of 23 counties in Texas that haven't reached a drought index of 600, which indicates severe wildfire danger. However, he believes that the area will exceed that mark by July 4, even with the recent rains.

Riley said the Parker County decree applies only to private fireworks use, not public displays.

"I believe that isn't appropriate, and I specifically excluded professional displays within cities from that prohibition," he said.

Renois encouraged people to attend city-sponsored shows.

"The biggest thing we want to reach out to people this year is there are a lot of cities that spend the money to put on shows," he said. "They're free, they're great, they're put on by professionals and there's usually music and a festival atmosphere. Go do that."

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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