County judge issues declaration of disaster, orders fireworks ban
From Staff Reports

Dec. 29, 2006 -- Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap issued an executive order today restricting the use of all combustibles, including fireworks, effective immediately.

The order came in conjunction with a declaration of disaster issued by the judge, stating the county is "under imminent threat of severe damage, injury or loss of life or property resulting from the threat of wildfires due to drought and other weather-related conditions."

"We are in an extremely dangerous time," Millsap said. "I am confident the citizens of Hopkins County and vendors of fireworks will comply with these orders so everyone will have a safe and happy New Year."

The emergency order will remain in effect for at least seven days, but the ban will probably be extended. Hopkins County Commissioners Court traditionally follows up such declarations with a longer ban on outdoor burning.

The executive order specifically states the use of combustible materials in an outdoor environment is prohibited. That includes all fireworks, materials used in activities such as welding, and any other activity that could result in a fire.

Violating the order is a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of up to $500. Hopkins County Fire Chief Carl Nix and county fire department personnel wil be investigating all reports of outdoor burning, and "citations WILL be written for ALL violations," according to a press release issued from Millsap's office.

The order also prohibits the sale of restricted fireworks, which include "rockets with sticks" and missiles with "fins." 

"The weather forecasters offer little promise of a change in the conditions in the near future," Millsap said. "Dry conditions pose the threat of large, dangerous and fast-moving wildfires that have the potential of endangering lives and damaging property."

As of Dec. 19, aerial fireworks were restricted in 80 Texas counties, including at least two bordering counties, according to Texas Forest Service. 

Fireworks and outdoor burning pose an obvious threat during a drought. During this year's 4th of July weekend, local fire departments responded to more than 45 calls of grass fires. At least 13 of the calls resulted from fireworks. The day after the holiday ended, a ban on outdoor burning was ordered.

Hopkins County is currently listed in the 600-700 range on the Keetch-Bynam Drought Index,  which measures how dry the soil is, with 0 representing wet ground and 800 meaning absolutely dry conditions.

Overall, Hopkins County is estimated at 668 on the KBDI, with some areas ranked as low as 617. At least three small isolated areas -- one on the southwest Rains-Hopkins County border and two others on the north central Hopkins-Delta county border -- are already in the most extreme drought range at 710 on KBDI.

And the KBDI's 14-day outlook shows no improvements.

From Nov. 15 through Dec. 27, Hopkins County Fire/Rescue and the 12 county volunteer fire departments responded to 45 grass, brush and timber fires, one burn ban violation, three controlled burns, 11 structure fires, one electrical fire, and conducted one smoke investigation. At least one of the grass fires and a structure fire on Christmas Eve resulted from outdoor burning in a smoker. The grass and wooded area continued to smolder until Monday, when Texas Forest Service was contacted to bring in bulldozers to plow around the fire area.

These tallies do not include the grass fires which city firefighters have battled over the past month and a half.

Hopkins County Fire/Rescue is adding an additional crew member on New Year's Eve, making two full crews who will remain on duty beyond midnight as a precaution. 

Discharging fireworks is already prohibited inside the city limits of Sulphur Springs, are not allowed on federally controlled waterways such as Cooper Lake, and are also restricted in all national forests and grass lands.

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