Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Drought conditions in Bexar County mean certain pyrotechnics won’t be available for purchase this Fourth of July, but people looking to celebrate with a bang and a flash should still have plenty of options.
Most dealers in the region have voluntarily agreed to keep their rocket- and missile-style fireworks boxed up and out of sight, Bexar County Fire Marshal Chris Lopez said. The restrictions on rocket-type fireworks stem from a County-imposed burn ban amid weather conditions that have drier than normal.
“Weather-wise, we’re definitely in a place where it is and can be dangerous, so we have asked our partners to please make sure they don’t sell those types of fireworks,” Lopez said. “Because once those go aloft, they can go as high as above 300 feet, the winds will carry them several hundred yards into grassy and brushy areas, [and] we’ve seen them fall onto structures and cause fires.”
Fireworks are banned within San Antonio city limits, though sparklers are allowed. Use of fireworks in unincorporated areas of Bexar County is permitted.
The agreement between fireworks vendors and the fire marshal to avoid selling missile fireworks still leaves plenty of inventory to choose from, especially at Alamo Fireworks’ 900-square-foot megastore off Roosevelt Avenue. In anticipation of Fourth of July sales, floor-to-ceiling shelves are stocked high and deep with Voodoo Balls, Thunder Bomb Crackers, and, for the really big spenders, a $699 fireworks kit, the GigaTex.
As the state’s largest family-owned fireworks vendor, Alamo Fireworks owns 140 stores and stands just outside city limits in Bexar County, including 250 stores statewide, and two year-round operations in New Hampshire and Nevada. Stands are run by volunteers from local nonprofits, like booster clubs, that get a cut of sales. The consumer-grade fireworks are all made in China.
There are boxes the size of a layer cake with fuses that explode into colorful strobes and twinkle in the sky. You can find reloadable tubes with names like The Hammer and Mighty Magnum, and fun novelty items in the shape of frogs, chickens, and military tanks that pop and flash.
Neon sparklers and Mad Bull snappers are also a big hit, Alamo Fireworks officials said. But so are the yard signs Alamo Fireworks offers to combat veterans who want Fourth of July revelers to avoid using fireworks near their homes.
The other major vendor found along roadsides outside the city limits this time of year is Mr. W Fireworks. Founded in 1963 by W.A. Wildman and Jerry Watson, Mr. W got its start with a fireworks stand on U.S. Highway 90. Today, the company website shows 131 outlets near San Antonio. The family-owned and operated Mr. W runs fireworks stands in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
In Texas, the County judge is responsible for setting the dates during which licensed fireworks vendors can sell their goods. This year, that’s June 24-July 4 for the Independence Day holiday and Dec. 20-Jan. 1, 2019, for New Year’s.
Given that the Fourth of July falls in the middle of the week this year, Alamo Fireworks employees are gearing up for a rush of customers on July 3 and 4, said Celina Montoya, vice president of community and government relations at Alamo Fireworks.
“We know our customers pretty well,” she said. “We’ve been able to develop a brand loyalty in this area. We have people we’ve been seeing for decades, several generations.”
The same longevity goes for employees. Montoya, a Democratic candidate for State Representative in District 121, started at Alamo Fireworks at age 16. Espada Megastore Operator Debbie Collins has been working there as long as she can remember and brought her 38-year-old daughter into the business as well. “It’s something I know well,” she said. “There’s a tradition with it.”
Collins was on duty Monday when the fire marshal inspector dropped in to check that the store was up to code. Such inspections are conducted twice a year at about 400 fireworks stores and stands throughout the county.
“Fireworks use, sales, and storage – all of that is a high-hazard type of business,” Lopez said. “We don’t take that lightly in our realm. We’re out there ensuring each sale period that they’re safe. We want everyone to enjoy themselves and have a good time utilizing their fireworks and doing all those things to celebrate. Whether it’s the Fourth or New Year’s, we want people to safely enjoy those fireworks because it can be a dangerous business.”
And the fire marshal aggressively pursues those who don’t have a permit to sell fireworks. Last year at this time, Lopez’s department nabbed six people selling fireworks without a license – via online ads and from a trailer and a vehicle.
Most fireworks mishaps occur, he said, after consumers purchase the products. Last year’s Fourth of July celebrations here resulted in 290 calls to the San Antonio Fire Department’s Fireworks Hotline reporting illegal use of fireworks, two fireworks-related injuries, and 33 fires causing more than $500,000 in damages.
You can have your fireworks fun and stay out of trouble, too, if you obey the rules and use caution, Lopez said. “Make sure you’re not within the incorporated city limits with an ordinance against possession or use of fireworks, and in an area that’s free of grasses or dead vegetation,” Lopez said. He also advised against using fireworks if there are high winds.
Other safety tips include supervising children around fireworks, not using them indoors, and not making your own fireworks.
Never point fireworks at other people or animals, he said, and when you’re done, get a bucket of water and make a “big, wet soppy mess” out of the leftovers and the duds.
For a full list of rules regarding fireworks use in Bexar County, click here. You can report illegal and unsafe use of fireworks to the County fire marshal’s office between June 30 and July 5 by calling (210) 335-FIRE (3473). On July 4, the San Antonio Fire Department will also operate a Fireworks Hotline, (210) 207-0202, between 8 p.m. and midnight.