Commissioners to allow fireworks

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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Wise County commissioners Monday decided not to ban aerial fireworks.

The decision came following a presentation and recommendation by Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Powell.

“Because of the limitations of the legislature, I feel like our best answer is to go with mitigation and a PR campaign [to reinforce safety],” Powell said.

He explained although there is a fire risk, he’s not convinced a ban would help.

The local government code limits bans to only missiles with sticks and rockets with fins, plus the county must be an average of 575 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which measures the wildfire potential by taking into account the soil moisture. The scale ranges from 0 to 800. The top end of the scale represents completely dry conditions. As of last week, the county was at 456.

Powell predicts the average KBDI for Wise County to reach 575 sometime between June 20 and June 25. This also assumes there will not be significant rainfall, which is defined as a storm producing an average of .75 inch or more of rain across most of the county.

The prediction was based on National Weather Service forecasts and verified by the regional fire management coordinator with the Texas Forest Service and the district fire management officer of the U.S. Forest Service.

“KBDI will be over 575 by the 4th (of July) for sure,” Powell said.

As Powell began to explain the county’s number of grass fire calls was trending down, Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns interrupted to note that “KBDI does not predict the amount of moisture in the fuel.”

“It’s moisture in the soil, so it’s ineffective for this, and the legislature ties our hands with this. It’s great for East Texas, and it’s great for the Piney Woods, and it saves a lot of lives, but it does nothing as far as predicting fuel conditions on July 4.

“At this point we have to make the prediction locally, and we can limit sticks and fins and that’s all we can do,” he said. “That would be my motion … to limit sticks and fins.”

County Judge J.D. Clark pointed out that while county officials would understand only sticks and fins were banned, there was the possibility the general public could be confused and think everything was outlawed.

“Then dispatch is going to get calls over every dang firework there is to go out there and say, ‘well, these are artillery shells. They can still light those,'” he said.

Powell said currently the calls for service are trending downward.

“Some of that is predictable because we are greening up. Again, this is where the data can be confusing,” he said. “The KBDI is going up because fuel load is going up as well. That increases the risk because what they’re looking at is when the fuel load starts to dry, then the risk becomes drier.

“The restrictions in the legislature on what we can limit and cannot limit and also the requirements that would be placed on the county with that for, at the end of the day, very little effect could potentially cause more harm because of the amount of calls coming in.

“We feel a better use of our time would be to engage in a public relations campaign for the next month doing everything we can to educate the public on the safe use of fireworks.”

Powell added he received a call from a fireworks distributor in the area who was willing to self-restrict on sticks and fins without a county regulation. The distributor said he would not only help with a public relations campaign, but also donate to it.

“Are we concerned about fire risk? Absolutely,” Clark said. “Does a fireworks ban actually help? No.”

Burns withdrew his original motion. The court instead directed the fire marshal and emergency management office to focus on fireworks safety education in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July.

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