Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A fire free fourth (I hope)

I'd rather that the firework distributors learn than to have the rest of us burn.

Look! I'm a poet and I din't even know it.

Stop the madness! Don't shoot off fireworks except in approved safe zones.

Fireworks bans survive legal challenges
By Roger Croteau and Zeke MacCormack: Express-News

SEGUIN — An attempt by a major fireworks vendor to overturn bans on the sale of fireworks because of dry conditions in the area hit a legal roadblock Monday.

Mr. W Fireworks sought temporary restraining orders to lift the bans in Guadalupe and Medina counties, claiming the counties waited too long to order fireworks sales halted. But in both cases, state district judges refused to overturn the bans.

In recent weeks, county judges in Guadalupe and Medina counties have signed temporary disaster declarations stating that drought made the use of fireworks too dangerous.
“We are certainly in an extreme drought,” said Guadalupe County Judge Mike Wiggins, who on June 20 signed the emergency 60-hour declaration banning the sale and use of all fireworks. Gov. Rick Perry then extended the ban through the July 4 holiday.

Wiggins said the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index in the county is at its highest reading ever — 720 on a scale of 0 to 800.

He testified at Monday's hearing in Seguin that there were more than 70 fires related to fireworks in Guadalupe County over the New Year's holiday, when the drought index was more than 100 points lower. He said that area fire departments were stretched to the breaking point.
Gay Gueringer, attorney for Mr. W, argued that the state law allowing county judges to issue temporary disaster declarations banning the sale and use of all fireworks requires that the action be taken by June 15.

The chapter of the Local Government Code does not specifically cite that date, but it refers to another part of the Local Government Code that does.

“The Legislature does not willy-nilly shut down industries,” Gueringer said. “The county's action was wrongful and illegal. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it is void.”
Wayne Wildman, president of Mr. W, said the lack of adequate notice of a shutdown of his dozen or so stands in Guadalupe County caused him to waste time and money readying them to open.

He said the ban could cost his business $500,000 in lost sales.

Wildman said that in many other counties, including Bexar, he has reached compromises with local leaders, keeping certain more problematic fireworks off his shelves.

But State District Judge Bud Kirkendall said his reading of the law does not include the June 15 deadline, and he denied the application for the temporary restraining order.

The result was the same in Medina County, where State District Judge Mickey Pennington also denied Mr. W's request.

Medina County Sheriff Randy Brown welcomed the ruling.

“We definitely need it,” he said. “On New Year's Eve, we had more than 200 fires.”

Matthew F. Wymer, who represented Mr. W in the Medina County hearing, said six counties in Texas missed the purported June 15 deadline, but Mr. W planned to only challenge the bans in Guadalupe and Medina counties.

Rancher John Cores , who attended the Guadalupe County hearing, said he was glad to see the ban upheld because a New Year's fire burned 40 acres of pasture at his ranch near New Braunfels.

“The pasture still hasn't recovered,” he said. “And it scared the hell out of me.”

In the San Antonio area, Comal County also has banned fireworks for the July 4 season and Kendall County has banned the use, but not the sale, of fireworks.

Most other area counties have banned the sale of aerial fireworks, defined in the law as “rockets with sticks or missiles with fins.”