PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 13, 2011

Fireworks may fizzle during drought

PORT ARTHUR — With little rain in sight, it’s beginning to look like Fourth of July fireworks this year are going to be a dud.

Three weeks before the holiday, drought is forcing Jefferson County officials to take a hard look at safety precautions, and that means the likelihood of at least a partial ban on fireworks.

Jefferson County Commissioners on Monday will consider whether to institute a ban on aerial fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county, or they could opt to prohibit fireworks altogether.

“I feel very strongly that at a minimum, we will ban fireworks with fins and sticks (aerial fireworks.) We will have to watch the weather to see, but it looks like the drought is not going to let up,” Jeff Branick, Jefferson County Judge, said in a telephone interview last week.

According to the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office, Jefferson County is experiencing 17.58 inches below normal rainfall amounts. Only 6.65 inches of rain has fallen since January, and less than a quarter inch this month while temperatures began to soar.

NWS meteorologists are predicting at the most, a 20 percent chance of rainfall throughout next week.

According to state statutes governing the use and sale of fireworks, Commissioners have until June 14 to decide whether to partially ban Fourth of July fireworks in unincorporated areas of the city.

The partial ban would outlaw aerial fireworks, those  with sticks and fins.

Commissioners could go a step further and ban the use and sale of all fireworks, Branick said. That action could be taken later than the June 14 deadline.

Branick said at any time the county can enact a local disaster declaration which would be in force for 60 hours before requiring Governor Rick Perry to temporarily extend the time period. After that County Commissioner’s would have to meet within seven days to extend the disaster declaration.

If enacted, the declaration would among other practices, prohibit the use of fireworks, Branick said.

In a letter drafted to President Barack Obama this week urging that Texas to be given federal disaster status because of the number of wildfires in the state, Joe Deshotel, State Representative for District 22, said 2.7 million acres of Texas lands have been destroyed and more than 400 homes.

Since the fire season began, local and state responders, including many volunteers, have battled more than 10,500 fires, Deshotel’s letter stated.

State law allows distributors to sale Fourth of July fireworks from June 24 to July 4.

Any kind of a ban would not affect aerial fireworks displays in local cities with fire departments such as the one planned in Beaumont’s Riverfront Park, Branick said.

Orange County officials have already enacted a partial fireworks ban.

In other matters, Commissioners will begin the process of hiring a replacement for Airport Manager Hal Ross, who is retiring at the end of July.

Commissioners on Monday will appoint a committee to screen and evaluate airport manager applicants. Those expected to be named to the committee are Precinct 2 Commissioner Brent Weaver, Branick, Jerome Delafosse, Cary Erickson, Deb Clark and Patrick Swain.

Branick said Ross’ job had already been posted and drawn about 30 applicants from all over the place, including out of state.

According to Branick, the county hopes to fill the position before Ross leaves toward the end of July.

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