Crossroads residents planning to make fireworks part of their New Year holiday celebration should use extreme caution, according to local fire officials, as dry conditions could quickly turn fun into tragedy.
According to Howard County Volunteer Fire Chief Tommy Sullivan, local officials will be relying on residents' good planning and safe practices this holiday season when it comes to fireworks, much like they did during the Independence Day holiday earlier this year.
“There's no fireworks ban in place at this time, so residents will have the opportunity to make fireworks part of their holiday celebration,” Sullivan said. “However, they need to make sure they understand the law regarding where they can use them and make sure they practice fire safety when they do. We've been pretty lucky these last couple of months as the fire danger has risen and we'd like to see it stay that way.”
Sullivan said recent cold fronts accompanied by humidity have helped to keep fire dangers lower than expected.
“These fronts which have been rolling through have brought humidity levels up above the 15 percent mark, which has really kept the fire danger down to a minimum,” Sullivan said. “However, if we see the humidity drop below that level, coupled with the high winds we've been seeing lately, we could be in some real trouble.”
Sullivan said the key to keeping fireworks from becoming a danger this holiday season is in the hands of local residents.
“If our citizens do what they are supposed to do and follow the law, I don't expect to have any major problems,” he said. “However, if they decide to get stupid, it's going to be game-on.”
Fireworks enthusiasts who decide not to follow the law could be looking at some serious fines, as well, Sullivan said.
“It's illegal to set off fireworks in the city limits,” Sullivan said. “And that's all year long. If you get caught, don't expect local law enforcement to take pity on you, either. For those who will set them of out in the county, you need to make sure you have the landowner's permission. If you don't and something goes wrong, you could be looking at a $500 fine for reckless damage.
“Setting off fireworks on the side of the road or actually in the roadways is a bad idea, as well. It just takes one errant piece of paper from the fireworks to earn you a $500 fine for littering. Again, don't expect law enforcement or the local fire departments to have mercy on you, especially if you're breaking the law.”
While there is no burn ban — or fireworks ban — in place in Howard County at this time, Sullivan it's not a streak he expects to keep alive much longer.
“I plan to go before the county commissioners the first part of January,” he said. “If the conditions do what I believe they will do, I'll be asking them to enact a burn ban. We're trying to stretch out our time without a ban so area residents can get rid of their holiday waste and other sanitation needs. However, as the winds begin to kick up and it gets drier, we'll have no choice but to enact a ban and it will likely last through the winter and into the spring.”
In the meantime, Sullivan urges residents to do what they can to keep the risk of wildfire — both countywide and near their residence — to a minimum.
“One of the most important things they can do is clear at least a 50-feet area around their house. Personally, with the high winds we have out here in West Texas, I suggest a 100-feet circle,” Sullivan said. “Make sure the grass is scalped down as low as you can get it within that area, because fire can move really fast through it.
“Also, if you have trees, it's not necessary to get rid of all of them, just make sure they aren't touching. You don't want the fire to be able to jump from one tree or bush to the next. It's possible to make your property look good and still make it safe.”