Fireworks out for Fourth of July


By LPR Staff


In response to the very real and ever-growing risk of wildfire danger throughout Central Texas, county judges across the region have one by one issued orders banning the sale or use of fireworks this Fourth of July season. On Monday, Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn joined those ranks.

The order, issued alongside a declaration of local

disaster, enhances the restrictions normally placed on fireworks use and sale during this time of year.

The order does not restrict professional fireworks shows sponsored by governmental bodies. However, Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the danger of wildfire in the area is simply too high for comfort. As a result, he said, and after consulting with several sources in the area, the City of Lockhart pulled the plug on the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show, making it impossible for the event to go forward on Independence Day.

The fireworks show has been tentatively rescheduled, Rodgers said, for Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

As a rule of law, fireworks bans under emergency declarations of disaster can only be upheld by county judges for 60 hours, after which time they must be ratified by Governor Rick Perry. Already, Perry has ratified 20 such orders, extending them until 12:01 a.m. on July 5, 2011.

Harry Swofford, of American Fireworks, approached the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court during discussion on the matter, asking Bonn to reconsider the order. The restrictions, he said, single out fireworks despite the myriad other dangers presented by everyday activities during periods of extreme drought, and stand to have a potentially bankrupting impact on fireworks vendors.

“We sell a legal product, that is already restricted by law,” Swofford said. “And yes, there are risks of fire because of improper use. But we already try, through our own decision, to help lessen that danger, by not carrying or selling the rockets with sticks or missiles with fins. You aren’t trying to put welders out of business, or stopping people from selling cigarettes, so we’re worried about you issuing an order that singles us out.”

Fireworks were targeted in the order, according to McMahan Volunteer Fire Chief Chuck Cutshall, because of the concentration of people who historically use them during the Fourth of July season.

“We recognize that there are many other dangers,” Cutshall said, speaking on behalf of the Caldwell County Fire Chief’s Association. “But the [Texas Forest Service] has already said that they don’t have the resources to help us if anything happens here, so we, as volunteer departments, are on our own in the county.”

Cutshall also said that most of Caldwell County’s volunteer departments respond to multiple calls during days surrounding the Fourth of July, many driven by improper use of fireworks. With conditions being what they are this summer, and with the lack of state resources at the county’s disposal he said, the judge was right in taking any steps necessary to help alleviate the risks to Caldwell County homes and property.

As of Monday, Caldwell County was listed at near 700 on the Keetch-Byram Disaster Index, the formula used by the Texas Forest Service to determine the average danger for wildfire in a given area. Within the next two weeks, that rating is expected to increase to upwards of 760.

The highest danger rating on the Keetch-Byram Index is 800.

Soon after the order and disaster declaration was issued on Monday, the documents were forwarded to Governor Rick Perry’s office for ratification and extension. Because Perry has extended several other such orders, it is expected that he will extend Caldwell County’s, as well.

The order, however, does not restrict professional fireworks shows sponsored by governmental bodies. Despite emergency orders in place in surrounding counties, the cities of San Marcos, Kyle and Buda confirmed this week that they have no plans to cancel their fireworks shows.

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