When it comes to “climbing pandas,” “spinning eyeballs” and “happiness,” 6-year-old Camdon Tyler knows all about the items sold at his family’s fireworks stands.
The Amarillo boy keeps careful count of the customers who frequent one stand near Soncy and Hollywood roads just outside the Amarillo city limits.
He’ll be busy counting for the next week; as the Fourth of July nears, the number of customers looking for fireworks is on the rise.
“Sales in the first few days are always slow,” said Frank Ketlar, area manager for TNT Fireworks. “We do 90 percent of our business in the last few days.”
Sales began this week in the Panhandle and will continue until the Fourth. Vendors say they’re hoping greener pastures will translate into stacks of green in their cash registers. The vendors contend people are more inclined to purchase fireworks if they don’t worry as much about sparking a grassfire in dry conditions.
But as people prepare their fireworks for Independence Day celebrations, public safety officials caution that restrictions are in place to ensure a safe – and fire-free – holiday.
The American Pyrotechnics Association reports that sales last year brought in a record high of $940 million in revenue. An estimated 213 million pounds of fireworks were ignited last year, according to the association, and of that amount, 186.4 million pounds were set by people in their backyards, on their boat launch or elsewhere.
“People think there’s a lot of money in this,” said Camdon’s great-grandmother, Evelyn Wells, whose family runs three stands. “There’s really not. There’s a lot of hard work.”
Ketlar, the area manager for TNT Fireworks, would not divulge sales figures. He oversees 46 stands in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.
While there are fewer restrictions and burn bans in place this year thanks to wetter conditions, fire officials caution residents to exercise care.
It’s illegal to use fireworks and even to possess them within the boundaries of any Panhandle city, including Amarillo. Violators will find their celebrations marred by a misdemeanor citation costing up to $500. Officials say “aerial rockets” are allowed this year outside city limits for the first time in several years.
“We have more trouble with people popping fireworks in town (than in rural areas),” said Dean Turney, Hereford County fire marshal. “That ties up our police officers.”
It’s illegal to shoot fireworks from public roadways or rights of way, and officials say they’ll be out looking for offenders. That means no stopping on state highways or county roads to celebrate. In Ochiltree County, officials have banned fireworks on all county property, including Lake Fryer.
People living in nearby cities often migrate to rural areas, stop on county rights of way, use their pyrotechnics and leave trash behind, said Potter County Fire-Rescue Chief Richard Lake.
“That’s a big problem for us,” he said. “A lot of people come out and they don’t have any idea of whose property they’re shooting on. Not only is it illegal, but it causes a lot of damage to people’s property.”
Shooting fireworks on private property outside city limits is only allowed if the owner is present or has given written permission.
Fire officials also caution residents that while there’s been enough precipitation to eliminate burn bans, it’s still dry enough to start fires.
“I think the fire danger is going to be pretty close to being elevated,” Lake said. “We’re going to have to really pay close attention to it. There’s the potential to have a fire.”
In a statement, the Texas Forest Service warned people to keep fireworks away from homes and other structures, grass and brush.
To help prevent fires in Dumas, Chief Paul Jenkins said the city will again open its landfill following the city’s fireworks show on the Fourth to allow people to launch their rockets and other items. Fire trucks will be stationed at the dump.
“We haven’t seen that (many fires) in the last several years even when there has been a burn ban,” Jenkins said. “People pretty much go to the landfill.”