EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The El Paso County Commissioners Court may implement an outright ban on sales of fireworks this summer but vendors are asking for some leeway.
Fernie Viramontes, who owns fireworks businesses in the county, said the industry is prepared to stay in business this year. And vendors are requesting the county to allow fireworks sellers to operate for one week — between June 28 and July 4 — even with a ban on missiles and rockets.
Viramontes said residents are able to venture to New Mexico and buy fireworks, which would negate any effect from a ban.
“Last-minute bans only serve to hurt the vendors and do little to prevent fires,” he said. “An outright ban is just devastating.”
Officials are concerned fireworks may lead to some dangers this summer as the region is experiencing a drought.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said Monday’s discussion was to weigh what should and shouldn’t be allowed and to consider the effects of a possible ban on vendors.
“I think we can balance this idea that it can happen anyway with people coming from New Mexico, we have to deal with that one way or the other,” Samaniego said. “The more prepared we are, the more understanding we have, we’ll be a lot better off than just blindly leading into the Fourth of July.”
Roger Esparza, El Paso County fire chief of Emergency Services District #2, said the county cannot prohibit the transportation of fireworks, even with a ban.
“But regardless of whether we ban them in El Paso County, they’re still going to come across from New Mexico,” Esparza said. “They’re still going to be popping in El Paso County, regardless.”
Esparza said the industry has tried to assist the county in the past to address concerns. Banning rockets and missiles would promote safety, he added.
Over the last decade, Esparza said he has seen the number of fireworks stands go from more than 100 to as low as 30. Recently, there were 50 in operation, he added. Bans have led to a decrease in brush fires in the Montana Vista area, he added.
Brush fires cannot always be officially attributed to fireworks, Esparza said. Law enforcement has to show proof before making the claim.
Carlos Leon, commissioner of Precinct 1, says the finding has him weighing whether to issue a ban on fireworks, but he acknowledged the financial effects it has on businesses.
David Stout, commissioner of Precinct 2, said he sees it as a public safety issue and has found implementing bans to be an appropriate response to drought in the past.
“Hearing what Chief Esparza just said about the number of brush fires that are caused during firework season that can’t be attributed to fireworks, but we all know that they are caused by fireworks,” Stout said.
Iliana Holguin, commissioner of Precinct 3, said the county asked the public to avoid many activities last year because of the pandemic and that much progress is being made in 2021. She acknowledged that residents are looking forward to July 4 because of increasing optimism and that it’d be difficult to prevent celebrations for the holiday.
“I feel like our efforts are better spent trying to find ways to work together to try to make July 4 as safe as possible for everyone,” she said.
El Paso County resident Lucinda Cuellar called into the meeting to suggest vendors write down the names and addresses of individuals who buy fireworks. She said residents in the desert areas of East El Paso County are usually left to clean up the trash left behind.
In the past, businesses have worked with fire officials to do mock sales and responses to emergencies, he added.
One vendor, in one season, can generate up to $145,000 for non-profits and said many of the groups are high school teachers, coaches and teams benefit from the sale of fireworks, Viramontes said.
Money raised from fireworks sales helps get students through college, buy shoes and get ready for school, he added. It takes 10 days of sales to meet fundraising goals.
Viramontes said it will help vendors to know if there is a ban on rockets and missile ban by June 15 when they start making orders. He said costs have doubled for fireworks due to pandemic-related shortages.
Viramontes also mentioned many in the community have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, which will continue to improve by July. County data shows nearly 60 percent of eligible residents have gotten a dose of a vaccine.
“Everything has caused a domino effect. It’s been a hard year,” Viramontes said. “If we get shut down, it’s just devastating.”