By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
After missing out on a staple of Independence Day festivities last year, residents in Bell and Coryell counties will get to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks this year.
While both counties are considering burn bans, neither of them plan to implement the measures until after the holiday.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said the commissioner's court would meet Monday to consider instituting a county-wide burn ban. If passed, the ban would not start until sundown Friday.
"The fire chief's association has recommended the burn ban be instituted next week but wanted to give adequate notice to the public so that any needed burning could be done over the weekend," the statement read.
Coryell County commissioners also discussed a burn ban at their June 25 meeting, but took no action.
"We discussed it at our last meeting, but we decided to wait until after the Fourth of July," said Jack Wall, Precinct 1 commissioner. "It will allow people to celebrate and use fireworks if they choose to."
The decision to wait on any burn bans is a reversal from last year, when the counties moved to ban burning and fireworks through the holiday weekend.
In mid-June of last year, Bell, Coryell and Lampasas commissioners voted to ban only the sale of aerial fireworks with "sticks" and "fins," such as bottle rockets. Bell and Coryell counties later banned all outdoor burning and the sale of fireworks until after the holiday.
The sale of fireworks and their use outside of city limits was not banned in Lampasas County last year. As of Thursday, no burn ban was in effect for the county.
While residents in Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties will be able to purchase and use all types of fireworks this year, Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and Lampasas all have regulations against setting them off within city limits.
Fire officials from all four cities said those regulations are in effect this year, and that violating city regulations could result in confiscation of fireworks and fines.
Those who decide to celebrate the holiday with fireworks outside the city should exercise caution.
"The potential for fires is still very high. There is a lot of dead grass and dry fields that are ready to burn," said Kenneth Hawthorne, deputy chief of the Killeen Fire Department. "Even out there in the county, along the highway, there is very dry grass, and all it takes is one spark."
Brad Alley, a Harker Heights fire marshal, also cautioned those using fireworks this year to be careful. He said he saw most Heights residents complying with the bans last year, and credited it to the county burn bans.
"Last year, people were very aware because of the drought conditions and the burn bans," he said. "My fear is that we are not under a burn ban now, and that maybe there will be less awareness even though there is still a significant danger."
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.
Fireworks safety tips
Use fireworks outdoors only.
Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
Always have water handy. (A hose or bucket).
Only use fireworks as intended. Don't try to alter them or combine them.
Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."
Only persons age 12 and older should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type.
Do not use homemade fireworks: They can kill you. Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
Source: National Council of Fireworks Safety