Interstate 35 is dotted with red, white and blue stands that open only a few days a year.
The stands are a symbol of summer for many, but a fireworks ban in place because of the extreme drought ravaging the state may extinguish Independence Day’s traditional spark — especially for the firework vendors who provide that spark to everyone else.
A burn ban and a subsequent fireworks ban in Travis County are forcing firework vendors to deal with the loss of income and tradition.
“We’re very sympathetic to the fact that these are individuals that are out a part of their annual income,” said Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee. “It was difficult to make that kind of decision. But, in weighing the possibility that a wildfire would occur, that decision had to be made.”
Some fireworks vendors agreed, despite their loss of income.
“We’d already decided about three or four weeks before they shut us down that we were going to shut down anyway,” said Sean McMahon, who operates a fireworks stand in Webberville. “I live in a farming community, and I wouldn’t want somebody shooting fireworks next to my house with the woods as dry as they are.”
McMahon opened Big Bang Fireworks five years ago and said this is the first time he hasn’t been permitted to sell fireworks. Travis County last banned the sale of fireworks in December 2004.
“Almost every season that I’ve been open they’ve banned rockets with sticks and missiles with fins, so that’s pretty much standard,” McMahon said. “It’s just too dry here. But this is the first time I’ve ever been shut down.”
McMahon is a construction superintendent and project manager and he considers his Big Bang Fireworks profits “supplemental income” that he can get by without. But other Travis County fireworks dealers rely more on their fireworks vending, and they’ve had to adjust accordingly.
“We’re having to cut back on our spending, which is usually not a big deal for us,” said Melissa Cooper, who operates an American Fireworks stand with her family in Del Valle.
“I mean, like any family, we struggle, but we still go on vacation during the summer and do extra spending. But this year we’re not going on vacation and we’re not going to go get stuff just because we want it. We’re cutting back and saving money.”
In Texas, the sale of fireworks is permitted twice a year: in the summer from June 24 to July 4 and in the winter from Dec. 20 to Jan. 1. Although, the fireworks seasons are important to people such as the Cooper family who depend on them for income and to people who just enjoy shooting them on holidays, Cooper said she understands why this summer’s season had to be cancelled.
“I plan everything around the fireworks seasons,” Cooper said. “It’s going to be a lot different this year. A lot of our longtime customers were upset and I told them ‘You know, if not selling fireworks saves someone’s house or doesn’t cause a tragedy for someone or doesn’t cause irreplaceable damage, I can live with that.’ I live two miles away from my stand and I get so scared every year. I tell people ‘I dont mind y’all popping fireworks, just don’t burn my house down.’ They all laugh and say ‘We’ll put your house out if we catch it on fire.’ Not this year, I don’t think.”
In addition to the financial loss, Travis County fireworks vendors are missing out on other the joys that come with the season. Tom Hancock, a retired baseball coach who sells fireworks in Dripping Springs, said his customers, some of whom have been shopping at his stand since he started selling fireworks 14 years ago, make the job exceptional.
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Hancock said. “I look forward to getting to see the same people over and over again, every year, and developing relationships with those people. I have a lot of my ex-ball players who always come back. It’s a chance to visit with them and see how they’re doing in their life. We don’t do it just for the money — obviously that’s important, you know — but we do it because we enjoy the people and the fireworks.”
Dan Turner, who works for the Texas Legislative Council and has lived in Texas most of his life, said that he usually buys about $500 worth of fireworks every Fourth of July to shoot off with his family and that he can’t remember an Independence Day where they went without. Turner considers the ban a let down, but acknowledged the reasons behind it are sound and there might even be some good that comes with the restrictions.
“I guess it’ll be dark, but you know what, maybe the horses won’t be going nuts,” Turner said. “There’s good and bad things. It’s definitely the right thing to do. You can’t burn up somebody’s property to have a light show.”
Agitated livestock or not, Thomas Brownson, who operates Half Off Fireworks on Highway 290 West, perhaps summed the situation up best.
“I just wish we could sell fireworks,” he said.
Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Ban extinguishes firework plans