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Fireworks and droughts

It’s hard out there on a fireworks vendor.

As July 4 approaches, Michael Girdley is praying for rain.

The president of Alamo Fireworks, based in China Grove, is worried a summer drought could lead to a fireworks ban in Harris County, one of Girdley’s biggest markets.

“It’s our worst nightmare. We used to be able to survive because you used to count on opening each year. Now you can’t count on anything in Texas,” he grumbled.

Girdley is part of a growing chorus of fireworks vendors in Texas complaining about what they call arbitrary restrictions on their business. A 2007 revision to state law allows counties to ban sales of certain fireworks if the Keetch-Byram Drought Index indicates drought conditions. Counties must adopt that order before June 15 to prohibit certain fireworks for the July 4 fireworks season.

While the drought index was supposed to simplify the decision, vendors complain that fireworks can ultimately be permitted in one county, but banned in the neighboring one. And, regardless of the drought index, county judges can prohibit firework sales outright at any time by issuing a disaster declaration.

Texas’ patchwork system has left fireworks vendors in a wait-and-see stance as the calendar creeps closer to their most profitable holiday.

“If we can’t sell our product then, we can’t feed our families,” said Chester Davis, president of the Texas Pyrotechnic Association.

I feel for you, I do. Times are tough all over. But having said that, I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that there should be restrictions on fireworks sales, and that some of what is sold to the public should really only be sold to professionals. So while I’m sympathetic to the vendors and the frustration they must feel at dealing with new regulations, I’m on the county officials’ side. I agree with this.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett imposed a ban on the sale and use of some fireworks this afternoon as vendors prepare to open sales for the July 4th holiday.

Emmett issued a county disaster, which allowed him to forbid the sale and use of stick rockets and missiles with fins within Harris County.

“Public safety is my top priority in this matter, and this declaration is absolutely necessary to ensure that Harris County residents remain as safe as possible in these weather conditions,” Emmett said in a statement.

I really don’t see how he could have done otherwise, given the dry conditions lately. But I don’t expect the vendors to like it. Back to the original story:

Responsible vendors should be willing to pull certain aerial fireworks off shelves if it gets hot and dry, but shouldn’t be pushed around by authorities, said Paul Dewey Jones, who sells fireworks .

While Montgomery County will only restrict a few types of fireworks, he’s worried that customers will assume everything is banned.

“I don’t like the idea of government getting into our business unless there’s a very good reason,” he said.

Government officials point to statistics to make the case that fireworks should be carefully regulated: Between 2000 and 2007, there were 259 reported fireworks mishaps in Harris County, causing more than $2 million in damage.

That sounds like a very good reason to me. According to this version of the story, Montgomery County had 80 fireworks-related fires last year. And as with any industry, if all the vendors were responsible there would be no need for regulation, but they’re not and so there is. We’re just arguing about what the right amount is. What we’ve got now is fine by me.

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