USA — New Year’s Eve hangovers are fading memories, but the specter of an alarming number of fireworks-related brush fires should not disappear so easily.
When the Fourth of July and New Year’s approach, some revelers look to the heavens for excitement, setting off fireworks that burst into colorful patterns in the sky.
What looks pretty in the air often has ugly results on the ground.
Hundreds of brush fires, ignited by fireworks and aggravated by dry weeds, broke out in the San Antonio area on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the Express-News reported.
Residents, alarmed by the blazes, flooded the Bexar County 911 communications center with calls on New Year’s Eve a 460 percent increase in calls from the same day last year, the newspaper revealed last week.
The blazes came at a time when the county had issued a burn ban in response to dry conditions.
A San Antonio ordinance makes it a crime to sell and use fireworks within the city limits, with fines up to $2,000 for violations.
The number of calls might have been even higher, but the San Antonio Police Department had set up its own fireworks hotline, thus reducing the burden on the 911 center.
San Antonio police received 624 fireworks-related calls within a two-day period, 378 calls on Dec. 31 and 246 on Jan. 1, police spokesman Gabe Trevino said.
“It’s very difficult to prioritize calls, especially on a night when there’s so much drinking and driving,” Trevino said. “We had an experienced dispatcher go through all the calls and prioritize them based on the details, but it is a challenge.”
The Legislature could ease the burden by giving counties more authority in banning the sale of fireworks, a power that County Judge Nelson Wolff told the Express-News he has been trying to gain for years.
Wolff has asked county staff to prepare legislative proposals that would give counties the authority to ban the sale of fireworks outright or during drought conditions.
Previous efforts to get that authority which would prevent people from buying fireworks in rural areas and taking them into the city in addition, thus reducing fire hazards in unincorporated areas have been thwarted by the fireworks lobby, Wolff told the newspaper.
While brush fires represent a significant peril, they are not the only danger brought on by the illegal use of fireworks.
In 1992, a 12-year-old San Antonio girl was killed after being struck in the head by a bottle rocket, a tragedy that underscored the need for stricter codes.
The Legislature should act before the “fun and games” of fireworks spark another tragedy that results in massive property damage or worse.
Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to meet until next year, but in the meantime, voters can urge them to place legislation authorizing counties to ban the sale of fireworks on their agenda.