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Fireworks temporarily banned in El Paso County

El Paso County has temporarily banned fireworks in a plan meant to keep them from being bought, sold or used through the Fourth of July holiday.

County Judge Veronica Escobar issued a drought disaster declaration, effectively banning fireworks in the county for 60 hours starting Monday at 10:30 a.m. Commissioners then voted 4 to 1 in favor of extending the declaration, and to ask Governor Greg Abbott to extend the ban through the July 4.

Escobar said that even though the rest of Texas has been drenched, El Paso remains dangerously dry, as measured on the fire potential scale Keetch-Byram Drought Index.

“We want to make sure that the governor understands that while the rest of Texas is no longer in a drought, but underwater in some respects, we still are,” Escobar said. “And we still exceed the KDBI number that then takes us into the danger zone.”

Escobar expects a response from the governor within 48 hours.

Commissioner Andrew Haggerty voted against extending the declaration and ban, and said that all the ban will do is shift the problem and hurt local vendors.

“We’re not in a bubble,” Haggerty said. “We’re not in the middle of Texas. We are very close to New Mexico in very many spots, so all we’re doing in my eyes is hurting El Paso businesses, taking sales tax dollars to New Mexico. The same people are going to buy fireworks, they’re just going to move two blocks down the road. It’s not going to affect anything in terms of safety from fires, all it’s going to do is take that sales revenue to another state.”

Dona Ana county and the city of Las Cruces currently only ban aerial fireworks.

Two sides made impassioned arguments in front of county commissioners before the vote was taken Monday. On the one hand, fireworks vendors are facing the prospect no sales for the big holiday. And on the other hand, residents from areas heavily used by fireworks fans presenting their problems.

“When the Fourth of July comes, they go celebrate out there,” said Montana Vista resident Tina Silva. “And we are prisoners in our homes for more than five hours. We cannot go out of the house.”

Silva and other residents of county outskirts argued they pay the price every year the county allows fireworks. They came to commissioners court to support a ban, while fireworks retailers voiced their opposition, and impact on their livelihood.

“We’re sending all of our county dollars to New Mexico when you think about it,” said firework vendor Fernando Viramontes.

Viramontes and other vendors argued that people are still going to buy fireworks, and all the ban does is push them to New Mexico and the less stringent bans.

“We understand that the county commission really has not taken any of our input into consideration at all,” Viramontes said.

Ban supporters celebrated the disaster declaration and vote to ask the governor to extend it, and said the problem goes far beyond just fireworks.

“It’s not only the fireworks,” Silva said. “It’s the needles, the condoms, it’s everything. Why should we put up with it?”

If Abbott doesn’t extend the fireworks ban, Escobar said she’ll issue another disaster declaration and 60 hour ban to at least cover the July 4 holiday period.

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