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 didnt 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 its 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 Years 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 didnt 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 Years 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. Theres no guarantee, either, that grass and/or brush fires wont occur even with firefighters on site (assuming the brush truck and crew arent 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, Id 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 didnt 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 Years Eve the 911 calls resumed. Were those fires all started by fireworks? No, trash barrels and bonfires are a problem, too. But thats 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 Years fireworks. But many people just dont 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 Years Eve fireworks season.
Floresville-area resident Martin Kufus, an ex-paratrooper, works in San Antonio as a homeland-security consultant.