By The Associated Press
FORT WORTH, Texas – From Arizona to Florida, there will be fewer oohs and aahs at the rockets’ red glare this Fourth of July: Many cities and counties across the nation’s drought-stricken southern tier are banning fireworks because of the risk of wildfires.
New Mexico’s governor prohibited fireworks on state and private wildlands and pleaded with people not to buy or set off pyrotechnics. Authorities in the lone Georgia county that banned sales shut down roadside vendors and made sure fireworks were off store shelves. Dozens of Texas cities have canceled shows, from large events in Austin and San Antonio to small-town celebrations where folks usually sit on blankets at parks and lakes.
“People are, of course, disappointed, but they know what could happen if the fireworks show did go on,” said Sherri Davis, a city clerk in Saint Jo, a 1,000-resident farming community about 70 miles north of Fort Worth.
Parts of nearly a dozen states, from the Southeast to the West, are in a severe drought. And wildfires have charred thousands of square miles in recent months.
Some parts of the affected region already ban the sale or use of fireworks – or at least the types that explode or scatter fireballs, such as bottle rockets and Roman candles. This Independence Day, more expansive restrictions are in place, with many areas outlawing even sparklers.
While there have been a few protests and at least one court challenge, many people seem to have no problem with the precautions.
In Texas, most counties are now under burn bans, which prohibit some or all fireworks sales. Most Texas cities prohibit fireworks year-round anyway, but counties usually allow people to sell and use them twice a year, for about two weeks before Independence Day and New Year’s Day.
Amid the bone-dry brush along Interstate 10 near the U.S.-Mexico border, dozens of roadside booths were shuttered last week in El Paso County, which banned all fireworks. But in the adjacent city of Socorro, vendors were still allowed to sell them.
“I think this year sales are going to be better because people want what they can’t have,” said Michelle Saucedo, who runs a fireworks business in a Socorro warehouse. But she said she has been urging customers to be more careful this year. Blazes have scorched more than 5,100 square miles in Texas and have been blamed in four deaths – three of them firefighters – since the wildfire season began in November.