McLennan County bans fireworks ahead of July Fourth holiday | Local Govt. And Politics

McLennan County will learn what it is like to celebrate July Fourth without fireworks, as County Judge Scott Felton on Tuesday signed an order banning their sale and use the next 60 hours. He also sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asking that his office extend the ban much longer.

Sellers such as Thomas and Terresa Hale, who run Mr. W Fireworks in an unincorporated area near the Home Depot store in Bellmead, say they are playing the waiting game. They both regularly checked their phones for messages as the sultry afternoon wore on, hoping for news. While the order Tuesday will shut the Hales down, along with individuals who appreciate lighting off their own fireworks, commercial displays put on by bonded companies are not affected by the order.

“I’d rather the governor, everyone, err on the side of caution,” Thomas Hale said. “We don’t want to burn anything down.”

But the fact remains he is sitting on a 25,000-square-foot powder keg, so to speak, filled with explosive inventory carrying a $ 500,000 value, everything from Black Cat firecrackers to artillery shots priced at $ 65 for eight. The Hales oversee Deep Water Ministries , which live-streams worship services from various locations around Central Texas. The Hales employ about 30 people on days leading up to July Fourth.

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Staffing fireworks stands for Texas-based Mr. W. Fireworks not only provides job opportunities but “a little extra cash, which goes straight into the ministry,” Thomas Hale said. But the Hales said they understand reasoning behind the county’s decision, and will comply, no questions asked.

“We will lock the doors and go home,” Thomas Hale said.

Felton said scattered showers peppered parts of McLennan County Monday night, but the county remains in a severe drought. His disaster declaration prohibiting the sale or use of all fireworks says hot and dry conditions “pose the threat of large, dangerous and fast moving wildfires. ”The order cites the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, maintained by the Texas A & M Forest Service, showing the fire threat locally has crept into the index’s highest range.

Drought conditions place stress on volunteer fire departments, and he must weigh factors to protect residents and property, Felton said.

“The Texas Forest Service considers relative humidity, the amount of fuel, or dry grass, and wind conditions,” Felton said. “They use trends. It’s not just a one-day shot, but trends over time. The trends are worsening due. We’re going to get less rain in July, even less in August. We have to take all factors into consideration. ”

Felton said he has no reason to believe the Governor’s Office would not grant an extension beyond 60 hours. Specifically, he asked the ban on fireworks remain in place until the county’s burn ban expires. Enacted a week ago, the burn ban could last 90 days. , or until McLennan County commissioners or Felton take action to lift it, or until the Texas A & M Forest Service determines drought conditions no longer exist in the county, the order states.

Before the order went into place Tuesday, Marty Porter, who runs American Fire Works near Bellmead with his wife, Carolyn, said he was expecting business to pick up Saturday and Sunday, if the stand could remain open.

“I think they’re going to ban them, but I hope they don’t,” Porter said.

Closing means “we put everything back in the boxes and count again.”

He said he doubts he will sell fireworks much longer. He said he is nearly 60 and wears a pacemaker and a defibrillator due to heart problems.

Thomas Hale said that the county already had banned the sale of rocket-style fireworks due to drought conditions. He said he removed them from shelves but kept them around, thinking policy might change in time for the holiday.

“People love those rockets,” Terresa Hale said.

Their loss means a blow to the bottom line, but she could not pinpoint an exact percentage.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” she said, interviewed before Felton took action and still hoping the fireworks season could be salvaged. “We had two little showers yesterday, and another last night.”

Last year, the stand sold every item in stock ahead of July Fourth, down to the bare walls, having started with $ 340,000 in inventory, she said. The industry faced delivery challenges last year, with shipping vessels from China cooling their heels in California ports . This year, supply chain issues are less severe and mostly to blame on the trucking industry, Terresa Hale said.

Still, the store has inventory galore, she said. The Hales were hopeful they again could sell it all. On July 3 and July 4 last year, late-arriving crowds formed lines extending from the Hales’ store to a pawn shop next door.

The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the fireworks ban in the county’s unincorporated areas, while most cities and incorporated areas have their own restrictions and means of enforcement, said Elizabeth Thomas, who directs the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management.

Violation of the disaster declaration, including the ban on fireworks, is punishable by a fine up to $ 1,000 and a jail term of up to 180 days.

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