COVID-19 closed many fireworks stands during last year’s holiday season, and the industry is still reeling from supply chain issues limiting availability for some pyrotechnics this year.
Local fire authorities said they aren’t seeing fewer fireworks stands, which opened last Monday for sales through New Year’s Day.
“We haven’t noticed a reduction in the number of stands, in fact I think there are more of them this year,” said Comal County Fire Marshal Kory Klabunde, who added his department, inspectis the 40 that operate throughout the county.
Fireworks vendors began selling bottle rockets, firecrackers, sparklers and more, and sales will continue through midnight Saturday, New Year’s Day. Sales, possession and discharge of fireworks is allowed in the unincorporated areas of Comal and Guadalupe counties but banned in most cities, including New Braunfels.
Used legally or not, fireworks annually present the same risks to persons and property.
“They say that fireworks use should be supervised by adults, when actually the adults are the ones needing the supervision,” said New Braunfels Fire Department Battalion Chief Rick Edwards. “They are illegal within city limits — but we used to see more of it in rural areas, where winds sparked up some pretty good grass fires.”
A discarded cigarette sparked a wind-fueled blaze that consumed 227 acres of one property near Purgatory Road and Wegner Road in 2019. Most brushy areas have yet to freeze this year – which further dries out decaying greenery – it’s only a matter of time, both fire experts said.
“We’re fortunate we haven’t had a freeze, which would make it worse,’ Edwards said.
On Nov. 22, a 2-acre brush fire off Farm-to-Market Road 482 charred upright railroad ties and a shed in the middle of an open field. Klabunde said winds transformed a controlled burn into something that might have gotten out of control.
“Fireworks pose fire and injury risks even in the best of conditions,” he said. “With the ground still dry and not much moisture this fall, the potential for a grassfire is very high. Low humidity and high winds – that’s all it takes.”
The Keetch-Byram Drought Index assigns daily points to Texas counties, with each 100 points equivalent to an inch of dry soil depth. Commissioners ban outdoor burning in unincorporated areas whenever the county’s KBDI average exceeds 500 points; the countywide KBDI average Thursday morning measured 228.
Under state law, the KBDI needed to exceed 575 points on or before Dec 15 for a county to issue an emergency order banning fireworks with sticks and missiles with fins. Using those and all fireworks involves pre-planning and common sense, Klabunde said.
Property owners should mow high grass, wet down fireworks areas, and have water ready to quickly extinguish any fires. He also recommended residents be courteous to neighbors and pets sensitive to the noise.
“Essentially, we ask that Comal County residents be good neighbors and use common sense to keep themselves, their family and their communities safe,” Klabunde said. “That’s the best way to make sure everyone has a happy holiday.”
City fireworks ban
Fireworks of any kind are illegal in New Braunfels and its extraterritorial jurisdiction.
“The sales, possession, discharge, or offer for sale of fireworks inside city limits is strictly prohibited by municipal code,” David Ferguson, city communications coordinator said of the Class C misdemeanor that assesses violators with fines of up to $500.
Ferguson said NBPD’s 911 dispatch center is often inundated with calls from residents reporting a neighbor’s pyrotechnic activities.
“If you see a fire or know of someone that is injured because of fireworks, please call 911 immediately,” he said. “But if you are calling in a noise complaint about illegal fireworks on your street, please call our non-emergency number, 830-221-4100. That keeps the emergency lines open for priority calls such as traffic accidents, crimes and fires.”
Other holiday fire dangers
In addition to fireworks, space heaters and clogged chimneys cause fires this time of year. That may be particuarly worth noting with cooler weather expected to move into the area Saturday night.
“What we usually see are people who take ashes from the fireplace and put them in plastic garbage cans,” Edwards said. “Even though you won’t feel it when you run your hands over them, they’re still hot. And every year there are one or two fires after plastic cans are placed next to houses and garages.
“A wise thing to do is place the ashes in smaller, metal cans with lids — that way you can tell when the ashes are out but you know the ashes are cold.”
Edwards and Klabunde said no combustible items should be within 36 inches (3 feet) of space heaters, which should be models recommended by Underwriters Laboratory and feature tip- tip-over sensors.
“Clean out clogged chimneys, and while using any kind of gas or wood fireplaces, make sure you have carbon dioxide detectors and make sure they have batteries and are working,” Klabunde said.