Turns out the lingering heat, little rain, and tiny explosions everywhere don’t mix. (Provided by American Fireworks)
Stick rockets and “wing or rudder missiles” will not be sold in the local market fireworks during this Independence Day season, due to the continued and worsening drought in Travis County.
On June 23, Travis County Fire Marshal Tony Callaway and members of the fireworks industry announced that two types of products would not be sold until midnight on Monday, July 4. The joint agreement with American fireworksthe largest retailer in Travis County, and the Texas Pyrotechnic Association comes amid continuous triple-digit days. “Throughout Travis County, the lack of consistent rainfall has pushed fire danger to levels higher than those seen in recent summers,” Callaway said. “This voluntary decision by local fireworks retailers not to sell these aerial products is important when we have a high fire risk.”
Although the sale and use of all personal fireworks (excluding sparklers, smoke bombs, or noisemakers) is not permitted in the City of Austin, Travis County ban on burning outside does not (and cannot, under state law) prohibit fireworks. Counties are able to regulate “restricted fireworks” such as rockets and missiles under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 352, Subchapter Cwhich depends on drought conditions as measured by the Texas Forestry Service’s Keetch-Byram Drought Index. Travis County Public Information Officer Hector Nieto says Travis County would have needed a KBDI average of 575 or higher by June 15 to allow the move. As of June 13, the highest KBDI was 543 and the average was 435, so the commissioners had their hands tied at their June 14 meeting.
Responsibility now rests with fireworks retailers, who mostly agree: “As good stewards in the communities where we operate, we have a responsibility to do the right thing,” says Chester Davis, owner of American Fireworks and president of the TPA. But how effective will a voluntary decision by a single retailer to stop selling a few types of fireworks be?
“There are three big companies that account for 80% of locations and an even higher percentage of sales,” American Fireworks spokesman Russ Rhea said. “American Fireworks and the Texas Pyrotechnics Association are working with all suppliers to achieve 100% compliance.” As Nieto notes, “The Fire Marshal has the ability to enforce all applicable laws in Travis County, including our current ban on burning and the use of fireworks inside the boundaries of the town.”