Enough, already — time to ban New Year’s fireworks in Texas

Enough, already — time to ban New Year’s fireworks in Texas

9 January 2008

published by www.wilsoncountynews.com

USA — Time was in the Lone Star State when a motorist could steer his car or pickup onto an Interstate, settle in for a long road trip, and pop the top on a cold one. As long as the beer-sipping driver didn’t cause a problem, it was OK. Many people enjoyed this Texas tradition (which also generated commercial and tax revenue). But this tradition facilitated drunk driving, a growing threat to public safety. State government, however reluctantly perhaps in some quarters, eventually had to outlaw the practice.

Nobody likes to be the spoilsport. Nobody (in my circles, anyway) likes to advocate governmental action that would end a regional/cultural tradition, legally enjoyed by many, that generates revenue for mostly small businesses. But it’s time. A reasonable expectation of public safety — now, protection of life and property against serious and almost predictable seasonal wildfires — should outweigh tradition, enjoyment, and revenue.

Even in Texas.

The recent events of late December through New Year’s Day should be ample evidence that the Texas countryside by the end of the year has too much dry or winter-dead vegetation — and too many people are too careless — for the public sale and use of fireworks, any fireworks, to legally continue.

Close to home, anybody who recently didn’t notice the towering walls of brown smoke by day, cherry-red glows at night, or the sirens and flashing lights of firetrucks day and night, perhaps later saw the front-page headlines. “Fireworks cause massive brush fire,” the Wilson County News screamed on Jan 2. “Hundreds of brush fires rage in area — sparked by New Year’s fireworks, fueled by dry weeds and driven by high winds,” the San Antonio Express-News howled the same day.

The fact is, designated “safe zones” attract only a fraction of the people who buy and use fireworks. There’s no guarantee, either, that grass and/or brush fires won’t occur even with firefighters on site (assuming the brush truck and crew aren’t called away). As to counties’ “burn bans” and their selective prohibition of aerial fireworks, the Dec. 22 wildfire that began in southern Bexar County and raced into Wilson County had nothing to do with aerial fireworks.

The word reaching us on the fire line near Saspamco that afternoon (and later confirmed in the Wilson County News report) was that a child accidentally started a grass fire with a smoke bomb. Not a skyrocket, not a “pop-bottle rocket,” not a roman candle — a simple smoke bomb. In 10 years as a volunteer firefighter in Wilson County, I’d never seen some of the things I saw Dec. 22 during the multi-agency response to that 1,000-acre-plus fire.

At one point, we almost didn’t save a rural home from the wind-blown blaze that first ignited 100 or so round bales of coastal hay and then burned down a nearby shed. A small army of first-responders and support personnel from Bexar, Wilson, and Atascosa counties devoted much of that day, our last Saturday before Christmas, to this emergency.

During the next few days, there was something of a lull — then, sure enough, on New Year’s Eve the “911” calls resumed. Were those fires all started by fireworks? No, trash barrels and bonfires are a problem, too. But that’s not the point; there should not have been any wildfires, large or small, started by fireworks. The public had been warned repeatedly about the especially high wildfire threat (a consequence of drought-breaking rains this summer and the overgrowth of flora) and the danger of carelessness with New Year’s fireworks. But many people just don’t get it — and never will.

Texas will survive if, as in many other states, fireworks are legal for sale and public use only during the July 4 season. The Legislature in Austin needs to find its spine and outlaw the New Year’s Eve fireworks season.

Floresville-area resident Martin Kufus, an ex-paratrooper, works in San Antonio as a homeland-security consultant.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien