UPDATE: On Wednesday, June 22, Bell County Judge David Blackburn will hold a press conference to discuss a Drought Disaster Declaration, which will impact the use of fireworks in the county, county officials said in a news release Wednesday morning. The press conference will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Bell County Courthouse (101 E Central Ave.) in Belton and will be streamed live on the Bell County Facebook page.
Local Fourth of July festivities may be free of fireworks this year.
Bell County officials are deciding whether to issue a disaster declaration related to ongoing drought conditions affecting Central Texas. If approved, the declaration could prevent residents and cities from firing off any fireworks for Independence Day celebrations.
At a Monday meeting the Bell County Commissioners Court discussed the possibility of issuing a disaster declaration this week since numerous grass fires were reported in the area last week.
Officials are checking to see if the disaster declaration would be appropriate although other counties have used such a measure to prohibit fireworks. A decision could take several days but fireworks are scheduled to go on sale Friday in Bell County.
Commissioner Bobby Whitson, who is also a volunteer firefighter in Salado, said fireworks pose a danger with lingering drought conditions and a scorching heat wave.
“The biggest danger, when you are shooting those off at night like that, is everyone goes to sleep and that little ember, that sat on a rooftop or in a field, suddenly takes off,” Whitson said. “It is already gone and engulfed by the time anybody knows it because everybody is asleep. The, we get a call at midnight for a house fire where people are asleep.”
The proposal comes as the county is currently under a burn ban, which prohibits outdoor burning. The measure was put in place last week but it only addresses controlled burns and not fireworks.
Many other Central Texas counties — including Williamson, Lampasas, Coryell and Burnet — have implemented similar burn bans in recent weeks. Commissioners in Milam County, to the east of Bell, issued their own burn ban last week.
Bell County Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt said that, so far, 16 other counties he knows of have put in place orders to prevent the use of fireworks.
Mahlstedt said that many local entities, such as Temple and the Wildflower Country Club in Temple, have contacted him to see what the county plans to do.
Temple is planning to host a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. July 4 while Wildflower Country Club hasn’t announced its plans. A fireworks show is also planned in Belton after a July 4 concert.
While some of these counties have used disaster declarations to prevent fireworks, officials said others issued a ban on fireworks earlier this month. The state requires a notice on or before June 16 to prevent the sale of fireworks for the Fourth of July. Bell County did not implement such a measure.
Commissioner Russell Schneider, along with other Bell commissioners, did acknowledge the impact the declaration could have on fireworks sellers.
“I feel bad for those folks that are stocking up to sell those things, and now we are here discussing if we are not going to let them sell (fireworks),” Schneider said.
Commissioner Bill Schumann said that, despite the issues, the possibility of fires is a big concern.
“My other thought is that it is just too dry to do anything,” Schumann said. “I think we should certainly defend fireworks, but we are just asking for problems.”
County Judge David Blackburn said that historically the county has tried to work towards allowing fireworks, but that might need to change this year.
Going forward, Commissioners said, the county could look at banning fireworks each year and only lifting the ban if weather conditions improve.
“We can almost, without even assessing the current conditions, forecast for the next millennium that it is going to be hot and dry on July 4,” Blackburn said.