Fireworks Fires Catch County Flat-Footed

 

SAN ANGELO, TX — Last night at Foster Park, a scenic county park situated along Spring Creek off FM 2335, what Pct 4 Commissioner Shawn Nanny described as a “war zone” of individuals shooting fireworks resulted in at least two small grass fires that could have grown out of control.

The Dove Creek Volunteer Fire Department anticipated trouble on the night of July 4 and pre-positioned firefighters at its station a little over a mile away. The volunteers responded to the grass fires with four vehicles, including a water truck, and quickly contained the fires.

All the while, as firefighters were extinguishing the fires set by fireworks, more and more fireworks were being set off, and seemingly some of the rockets whizzed by firefighters’ heads as they tended to the flames. Several units from the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office stood by, appearing powerless to stop the mayhem.

Many have asked the question as to how fireworks are allowed at all within county parks. Some have asked the second question: how can fireworks be allowed when a county-wide burn ban is in effect?

At issue were the laws and restrictions on how to use fireworks in the county. The laws state that no individual fireworks can be set off inside the city limits. In the county, fireworks can only be set off on private property. The county parks have rules forbidding fireworks. However, according to County Judge Lane Carter, there is some confusion in the “Parks Rules and Regulations.”

The PDF document states that:

“No person may possess gunpowder or other combustibles, explosives, or fireworks within a Tom Green County Park. The only exception shall be the discharge of fireworks for Independence Day (July 4th) Public Celebrations and shall require written approval of the Tom Green County Commissioners’ Court not less than four (4) weeks prior to the event.”

Sheriff Nick Hanna said the language needs to be cleaned up. The intent of the regulation is to allow organized fireworks displays in the parks, not to allow individuals the right to fire at will. Hanna noted that his office on Friday sent out a press release and social media push listing the county parks as locations where “residents can enjoy or watch fireworks in celebration of Independence Day.” He said that was a mistake or could have been read by the public incorrectly. It was not the intent of his office to suggest individual fireworks use was authorized in county parks.

As the scene unfolded last night at Foster Park, we were told that the burn ban that is in effect does not include the private use of fireworks. Burn bans, unless the order specifically bans fireworks, allow for fireworks. If a county commissioners’ court desires to ban fireworks prior to the 4th of July, Local Government Code requires the ban to be enacted before June 15 prior to the Independence Day celebration. And the Texas A&M Forest Service must declare the county in drought conditions. The fireworks lobby is powerful in Texas.

Commissioner Nanny said last night was a learning experience and that he expects to address the issues encountered in a future commissioners’ court meeting to settle the policy by removing ambiguity.

Judge Carter urged citizens not to fire off fireworks in county parks over the weekend. Not only has July 4 passed, but the park regulations clearly state that except for the 4th, fireworks use is prohibited in the parks.

“We wanted to get that word out before the weekend started,” Carter said. Meanwhile, Nanny extended his thanks to the volunteer fire departments who have responded quickly and without pay to keep county lives and property safe during this July 4th holiday.

A Dove Creek VFD tanker truck was used last night for water to extinguih a small grass fire caused by firework in the field north of Foster Park.

A Dove Creek VFD tanker truck was used last night for water to extinguih a small grass fire caused by firework in the field north of Foster Park.

A small grass fire that started from fireworks fired from Foster Park on July 4, 2024.

A small grass fire that started from fireworks fired from Foster Park on July 4, 2024.

Individucals continued to set off fireworks as firefighters battled a grass fire.

Individucals continued to set off fireworks as firefighters battled a grass fire.

 

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