Fireworks on in Texas a year after widespread ban

DALLAS — Fireworks will light up the sky in Texas this Fourth of July, a year after record heat and one of the worst droughts in state history prompted most cities and counties to ban holiday displays.

While communities in Colorado, Tennessee and other states are restricting fireworks because of drought and extreme heat this year, Texas weather is back to normal after spring rains greened up most of the state. But officials still urged residents to exercise caution, even if lawns and shrubs don’t appear dry.

“It’s not on anybody’s radar anymore, so it’s important to remind people that (fires) can happen,” said April Saginor, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service. “We have had several consecutive days of hundred degree temperatures that are drying out your grass. Even if you have had rain somewhat recently, it can dry out real quickly and put us back at danger.”

West Texas is still dealing with drought, and areas like El Paso and Hudspeth counties have banned fireworks, although professional shows are still on.

“The conditions are just perfect for everything to burn,” El Paso emergency official Scott Calderwood said.

There’s no ban in Lubbock County, where a disaster declaration last year also meant canceling professional shows, emergency official Clinton Bedford said.

Recent rains have brought temporary relief, Bedford said, lowering the moisture index used to determine forest fire potential. The state defines a drought as 575 or higher using this index, known as the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. The KBDI in Lubbock County hovered around 525 the weekend before July 4, Bedford said.

“We’re somewhat concerned because there is some dry vegetation, but not near the drought level we had last year,” he said.

In Midland County, Fire Marshal Dale Little said the KBDI sat around 500 the weekend before Independence Day, and he urged residents to light fireworks with caution because a low number on the scale doesn’t mean the county is in the clear.

“We are still in a drought,” Little said. “We’re every bit as dry as last year.”

Officials from the weather service forecast temperatures in the low- to mid-90s across the state for the week. Though the southeastern coast received rainfall the weekend before July 4, the rest of the state has remained dry, said Victor Murphy, climate program manager for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

“It looks like typical Fourth of July weather,” Murphy said.

Even in places where fireworks were legal last year, stand owners said they lost business.

Rex Nelson, co-owner of Nelson’s Fireworks, which has stores across the state, said his business fell off because customers were “in panic mode” after hearing about fire dangers across the state.

Jim Harris normally opens close to 30 Truckload Fireworks stands across West Texas. The 56-year-old said he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars last year, though he agrees with the ban for residents’ safety. Harris, who has owned his fireworks business for 28 years, works as a welder during the off-season and said he expects his business to be back on track this year.

“They completely banned every county I was in last summer,” said Nelson, who was in Caddo Mills on Monday. “It was hot, it was dry, so I just cried, but I cried alone.”