fireworks stands report brisk business
Daniel Garza was planning a party as he loaded boxes of Black Cats, M-88s, Roman Candles and Jumping Jacks into his pickup in front of a 'Fireworks Supercenter,' actually a wooden stand, along well traveled Interstate Ten northwest of San Antonio.
"We're finally going to have a real Fourth of July!" Garza said.
After a year without any oohs and aahs as even municipal fireworks displays were cancelled for the Fourth of July, due to a record drought, the red white and blue is returning to the wide open Texas skies, as about two thirds of the state's 254 counties have decided to approve the sale of fireworks to the public, many for the first time since 2010.
In addition to people celebrating the Fourth, that's good news to fireworks vendors. Already limited by state law to selling fireworks only in the ten days immediately proceeding July Fourth and New Year's Eve, Luke Girdley, Vice President of Alamo Fireworks says it's tough when their livelihood is taken away.
"It would be kind of like asking Wal-Mart to pay all their expenses for six months, but, oh, by the way, you can't open up any of your stores and you can't sell anything," Girdley said of last year's fireworks ban.
Not only was the Fourth of July without fireworks last year, many counties prohibited gatherings in parks due to concerns that hot vehicle undercarriages and catalytic converters would set the grass on fire. Some counties even banned that most Texas of recreational activities, the backyard barbecue.
"We're really excited for this season," Girdley said. "There's been a lot of rain, and we really think it's going to get a lot of people out there setting off fireworks."
But while many parts of Texas has indeed seen 'a lot of rain,' most of it fell in January through March, and Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee pointed that out when he issued an order legalizing fireworks sales in the county, which includes Austin.
"It’s been a while since our last beneficial rainfall, and the county is slowly drying out," Lee said. "With high humidity levels, fires have not yet been a problem."
John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist, says the main reason Texas has not had an outbreak of wildfires yet this summer is that there is essentially nothing left from last year to burn.
"We haven't seen much wildfire in Texas this year, because nothing much grew last year, so there's not a lot of fuel to burn," he said.
Nielsen-Gammon says Colorado, which is suffering from widespread wildfires, is experiencing the same type of cycle which sparked the fires in Texas last year. A wet year followed by a dry year.
"They had decent amounts of rain last year, but it's been dry this year. A lot of growth of vegetation followed by a stretch of dry weather, and that's the best recipe for fire."
The Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Drought Monitor reports that for the first time in nearly 14 months, no part of Texas is suffering from 'exceptional drought,' the most severe level of drought. One year ago, two thirds of Texas was in the grips of an 'exceptional' drought.
Wide stretches of west Texas are still suffering from drought, and throughout much of that area, fireworks and all outdoor burning remains prohibited.
In Texas fireworks are generally illegal inside city limits, and individuals are only allowed to shoot off fireworks in unincorporated areas. Many fireworks sellers set up 'safe zones,' where fire departments are standing by, to allow people to set off firecrackers in places where any grass fires can be quickly extinguished.
The Texas Forest Service feels confident enough that it has sent firefighters to New Mexico and Colorado in what it calls a 'thank you gesture' for the help Texas received battling devastating wildfires last summer. But the department still wants to make sure things don't get out of control over the Independence Day holiday.
Texas Forest Service Wild land Urban Interface and Prevention Coordinator Justice Jones said that while drought conditions have improved for much of the state, wildfire potential still exists – especially in areas where consecutive days of hot temperatures have dried out the vegetation.
“We don’t want to discourage anyone from enjoying the holiday; we just want to remind people that Texas is still prone to wildfire danger,” Jones said. “We’re still seeing almost daily local activity in some parts of the state.”