County to vote on banning fireworks for fourth straight year

County to vote on banning fireworks in unincorporated areas

El Paso County on Thursday voted to ban aerial fireworks through July 5. On Monday, County Judge Veronica Escobar plans to make a disaster declaration. The county will vote on whether to ask Gov. Rick Perry to allow the county to ban all fireworks in unincorporated areas for the fourth straight year.

Perry recently decided he would put El Paso County back on the state's drought emergency list. According to one drought index, the county's susceptibility to brushfires is the second highest in the state. But that drought figure is 13 percent lower than it was a year ago.

"You can have significant rainfall and it be very wet and no way to start a grassfire, but the KBDI may be high because of further soil moisture," said Jan Johnson of TNT Fireworks.

Johnson said the index is misleading in desert regions, and the county's recent fireworks bans have had big consequences for her industry.

"In excess of millions of dollars over the years," Johnson said.

If Perry approves the ban again this year, the county would likely set up a handful of safe zones where ground fireworks would be still legal.

"A lot of people crowding a small part of the county," said County Commissioner Vince Perez.

But without a county-wide ban, Perez said unincorporated areas in the Lower Valley will suffer.

"You have very urban-like neighborhoods that would essentially, fireworks would be able to be popped there legally in front of a home, because we don't have the same restriction that the City of El Paso does," Perez said.

Escobar said that without the ban, the sheriff's office would be stretched thin, and deputies would have to deal with everything from traffic congestion to disorderly conduct out in the unincorporated areas.

"Members of the industry will paint a very rosy picture," Escobar said. "And they'll talk about families and smiling kids. The reality, if you ask families and neighborhoods who live with the consequences of no ban, they will give you a very different reality that they face."

ABC-7 spoke on the phone Thursday with a woman who lives in one of the unincorporated parts of the county that relies on volunteer firefighters. She said she's all for professional fireworks displays, but that the right to protect one's property should trump the right to use fireworks.

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