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New Year’s fireworks options limited

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Fireworks fans won’t have quite as many fireworks to choose from in celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Bandera County next week because Bandera County Commissioners’ Court decided earlier this month that prolonged drought conditions make it unsafe for certain fireworks to be shot off.

Commissioners voted unanimously at their Dec. 12 meeting to prohibit the sale or use of specific fireworks – those that are classified in safety codes as “skyrockets with sticks” or missiles with fins – through Jan. 2 because those fireworks have a longer range than other fireworks and can come down in unforeseen ways, often not anywhere near where they were ignited.

Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith said those specific fireworks are bigger than fireworks known as bottle rockets, which already have been banned, and can produce consequences that are not limited just to the property where they were ignited.

“They come back down to earth very often on someone else’s property,” he said after commissioners voted to implement the New Year’s ban.

That is a concern in Bandera County because the Texas Forest Service has determined that drought conditions still exist here, increasing the chance that fires can race rapidly out of control once they get started.

Bandera County’s score in the most recent Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is a widely used measure of the intensity of drought conditions, reached 648, which is indicative of a more severe drought and an increased potential for wildfires.

The county also was one of 53 Texas counties that Gov. Greg Abbott identified as exhibiting “exceptional drought conditions” in a Nov. 8 disaster declaration. The declaration said the conditions in those counties “pose an imminent threat to public health, property, and the economy.”

Sparks and embers from fireworks have been known to cause fires, so commissioners felt the prohibition was a reasonable measure to impose.

“I’ll support this because these fireworks are so uncontrollable,” said Commissioner Bobby Harris after backing the prohibition.

Stith said a fire raced across close to 30 acres on a ranch off on Kings Ranch Road on Dec. 14 before it was brought under control, but generally the number of fires reported in the county recently has not been as large as might be expected in a county that has fallen into such a severe drought.

That was one of the reasons that commissioners chose not to reimpose an outdoor burn ban in Bandera County at its Dec. 12 meeting when it approved the fireworks limitation.

But Stith said grasses across the county have dried out considerably, and the little rain that has fallen across the county in recent weeks won’t change that.

That grass can become fuel for fires to grow on once they start, the fire marshal said, so limiting known ignition points – like fireworks with fins – is a reasonable decision.

“Being conservative is not a bad thing,” he said.

The prohibition may be difficult to impose because Bandera County may be one of the few area counties implementing it this year, Stith said. That means customers could go outside the county and purchase the prohibited fireworks and set them off in Bandera County.

Even if the fireworks are purchased legally in another county, they will be illegal to ignite in unincorporated areas of Bandera County until after New Year’s. Setting off fireworks in the City of Bandera already is illegal.

Stith said anyone shooting off the prohibited fireworks in the county is subject to a citation and a possible Class C misdemeanor charge, which upon conviction can produce a fine of up to $500.

He said he will contact the three or four operators who open fireworks stands in the county to let them know about the limitation and will visit the outlets once they are in operation to see that the targeted fireworks are not being sold.

Stands selling the fireworks are subject to having them confiscated, Stith said.