Wildfires lead to bans on fireworks

Firefighter Eugene Pino walks past Los Alamos Canyon, which is filled with smoke from the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico. Wildfires across the U.S. led officials to ban July 4 fireworks.

FORT WORTH, Texas --- 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. 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.

"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. This July 4, more expansive restrictions are in place, with many areas outlawing even sparklers.

In Texas, most counties are 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.

El Paso's Puerta Del Cielo Church expected to raise $2,000 to $3,000 in its annual fireworks fundraiser for a youth retreat. The church now must rely on donations.

"Our other option would be to sell water on the streets, and that would raise $200 in a two-week span, but now we cannot even do that because the city just banned that," said Tania Lemmon, the youth group's leader. The city cracked down on street sales of bottled water because some vendors forged permits or had no permits at all.

Technically, the only legal fireworks in Florida are those that emit small sparks and smoke, but there is a loophole: Customers can buy rockets and explosives if they say the items will be used for such purposes as scaring birds and other pests away from farms or fish hatcheries.

But Florida wildfires this year have blackened more than 390 square miles, and two firefighters were killed recently, so nearly half of the state's counties are now banning fireworks. On the Atlantic coast, Flagler County scrapped its fireworks show.

The San Antonio Fire Department canceled all of the city's fireworks displays, including popular shows at Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

For nearly 40 years, Pat Hammond and her husband have organized a Fourth of July parade in their San Antonio neighborhood. Normally, she and other folks then settle in and watch the city's fireworks. She said she will miss the spectacle but is glad the city is erring on the side of caution.

"You might think I'm easily entertained, but if it's a beautiful night and there's stars, that's a greater thing than fireworks," Hammond said. "I won't sit around sobbing without fireworks."

Augusta fireman has wildfire experience
In Georgia and South Carolina

One south Georgia county (Camden) has prohibited July Fourth fireworks, but ordinances regulating their use should be observed.

GEORGIA: Sparklers up to 100 grams of mixture per item, snake and glow worms, paper streamers, party poppers, string poppers, snappers and drop pops containing 0.25 grains or less of explosive mixture are legal. Firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, Roman candles and sparklers over 100 grams aren't.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Most fireworks are legal.

Those banned include explosive devices such as M-80s, M-100s, blockbusters or quartersticks.

Any device that produces sound can contain only two grains of pyrotechnic composition.

Sources: South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, official code of Georgia