Commissioners Court voted 3-2 Monday to extend a Declaration of Local Disaster that's expected to ban the sale, possession and use of all fireworks in the unincorporated areas of El Paso County this Fourth of July.
This is the third year in a row that Commissioners Court has made this decision to ban fireworks. The final decision to extend this ban through the Fourth of July is still up to the Governor, who has done exactly that the past two years.
County Judge Veronica Escobar and Commissioners Vince Perez and Carlos Leon voted for the ban. Commissioners Dan Haggerty and Sergio Lewis voted against it.
Commissioners Court heard from people on both sides of the issue for more than two hours, including fireworks vendors and first responders. Fire officials from both the City and County pointed to a KBDI index number of 731, the highest that drought index number has been in the past three years. That number need only be 575 or above for the County Judge to propose a Disaster Declaration.
Vendors countered with options, including allowing only what they call "Safe and Sane" fireworks to be sold or offering to establish "Safe Zones" in popular areas like Montana Vista to pop fireworks. Judge Escobar said for her it came down to resources to staff those proposed safe zones.
"We really should put a number to the resources that have been expended in the past," Escobar said. "These are taxpayer resources. You heard from the Sheriff's Office who says half of his force goes simply to that one area of Montana Vista every Fourth of July. That means we are diverting resources in a way that's not like anything else, not like any other holiday."
Fireworks vendors said banning fireworks for the third year in a row will be a big blow to not only the fireworks industry, but other businesses.
"It's devastating to the industry and to the other components involved in our industry," said Fernie Viramontes from TNT Fireworks in El Paso. "I keep reiterating the fundraising groups, the land owners, the businesses on Montana Vista and throughout the County. There's a lot of business that goes on and the fireworks industries help promote that business."
Some business owners in the Montana Vista area did speak Monday about the impact it has on them, since they said they depend on the Fourth of July crowds. Montana Vista's volunteer fire department also provided numbers that showed a ban on fireworks the past two years has cut fires in the area in more than half.
The Governor is expected to make his decision on whether to extend the ban through the Fourth of July by Friday.