Monday, February 19, 2018




No burn bans to stop East Texas fireworks celebrations

By Glenn Evans
Dec. 27, 2017 at 11:48 p.m.

Shelly Renfro, owner of Half Price Fireworks in Big Sandy, says a change in state law allows customers to shop for fireworks just like in other retail environments and no longer requires customers to purchase fireworks only across a counter.

Rayford Gibson is not a big fan of fireworks, but the Tatum fire chief doesn't begrudge the nation's love affair with things that sizzle and pop.

"Yeah, they pop a lot of fireworks on New Year's (Eve)," he said, anticipating bright skies this weekend as the calendar turns at midnight Sunday. "They'll light up the town — much to my discomfort."

The fire chief, who was leading crews to blazes on Christmas morning and the day after, can be forgiven for sounding a little Grinchy about the holiday that steals Christmas' spotlight so soon. But he and other area fire pros understand the peril lurking behind the fun of fireworks.

"I've seen too many bad things," Gibson said. "Thank goodness for a little moisture on the ground. That'll help a lot."

Fireworks sales so far this week are predictably slow, operators reported, adding they expect brisker business as New Year's Eve approaches.

"It's right after Christmas, right now," Fantastic Fireworks operator Donovan Cole said Tuesday. "It's pretty hard to beat Christmas."

This is Cole's second year at the outlet at 8707 Texas 149, south of Longview.

"It's slow," he said. "I imagine, for the 30th and 31st, with real good weather, we'll do well."

Shelly Renfro told much the same story from her Half Price Fireworks, at 809 W. Broadway Ave. (U.S. 80) in Big Sandy.

"I've been selling fireworks for over 20 years," she said. "Our sales, they stay steady, but we have increased the past couple of years. It should be a good weekend, because (New Year's Eve) is on a Sunday night. So people should have their celebrations all weekend long."

The winter sales season also marks the second major fireworks event under a new law. Customers no longer must be served by a sales clerk and may directly browse the explosives.

"We have buggies, baskets," Renfro said, explaining the law took effect before Memorial Day fireworks sales and was in full swing by the Fourth of July.

Recent wet weather has set a favorable stage for one of the two biggest fireworks holidays. Unlike July Fourth, though, low temperatures and precipitation could freeze some plans.

A 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday continues Sunday with possible freezing rain arriving New Year's Eve as temperatures dive into the mid-20s, the National Weather Service predicted Wednesday.

"I know there's people that buy fireworks and set them off around New Year's, but it's going to be so dad-gummed cold I wonder how much of that will be going on," Rusk County Judge Joel Hale said.

Rusk County declined last week to place a burn ban on the holiday.

No county in the region is under a burn ban with the area moisture index showing all but a piece of western Upshur County in the 0-200 range on a 0-800 scale. Western Upshur County is at 200-400, still on the wet side of the halfway mark.

"My family and I did some fireworks yesterday," Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler said Tuesday. "We had fun, but people just need to be safe."

Safety around fireworks starts with awareness of a few ironclad rules — launch fireworks away from a crowd, never touch one that fizzles out, keep a close eye on children and always have a good water supply close at hand.

That last rule is the first one Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt mentions when asked about any upcoming fireworks holiday. He also cautions that celebrants could be held financially liable if their fun sparks somebody's property.

"It looks pretty good to go, from what I see," he said. "I think we're going to be pretty safe in terms of no burn bans."

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