Harris County

How To Use Fireworks Safely During The Holidays

The sale of fireworks in Texas has started and there are thousands of selling points.

A fireworks stand in Spring, TX. The sale of fireworks in Texas has started on December 20 and will go through January 1, 2019.

The sale of fireworks in Texas has started this week and will go through January 1. The state has approximately 4,200 establishments that sell fireworks, combining brick and mortar stores, and outdoor stands. Experts have a considerable list of safety tips to keep in mind when manipulating these festive objects.

One of the most important safety tips is that children shouldn’t be handling fireworks, says Ben Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Insurance. Additionally, people must use precaution because this time of the year some of the vegetation is dry and sparks could catch fire.

Ideally, Gonzalez notes, fireworks should be lit on a hard surfaced area, such as concrete, or areas away from brush and grass.

Counties are usually the authority with jurisdiction and their rules apply regarding the use of fireworks. Rachel Moreno, public information officer for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, emphasizes that people must follow the directions and warning labels printed on the fireworks packaging. “Those are there for a reason,” she says, “the fireworks have been tested to operate in a way that is safe when you follow the directions and warning labels.”

Gonzalez and Moreno also underscore it’s important to make sure there is water or some bucket near the place where fireworks are being lit because if something catches fire it can be put out. “Always have some kind of water source available,” underlines Gonzalez, “that can just be a garden hose or couple of buckets of water to extinguish things that maybe didn’t go off and you are not sure if it’s gonna go off, and just to make sure that you are quickly available to put out any small fires.”

Know the territory

Moreno also points out it’s essential to know the territory. “The main thing we ask people to do is know where you are located,” she says “there are a number of cities that are actually located within Harris County –[the] city of Houston obviously being the big one— but there are some smaller jurisdictions that are actual cities that do not allow fireworks. So, make sure you are in unincorporated Harris County where you can shoot those fireworks.”

She adds it’s necessary to “make sure it’s legal in your community and also check with your homeowners association.”

Harris County has specific guidelines. One of them is that you can’t ignite fireworks if you are within 100 feet of establishments that sell flammable liquids, such as gas stations, or where flammable compressed gasses are stored and dispensed. Igniting fireworks if you are within 100 feet of a place where fireworks are stored or sold is also an offense.

The minimum distance is bigger, 600 feet, when we are talking about churches, hospitals (other than a veterinary hospital), asylum facilities, licensed child care centers, and schools, unless the person receives authorization in writing from the organization in question.

Texas has approximately 4,200 establishments that sell fireworks, combining brick and mortar stores, and outdoor stands.

One firework at a time

Moreno also recommends to only light one firework at a time because “when you have multiple fireworks going off, it can cause a very dangerous situation” and coincides with Gonzalez in that children shouldn’t be allowed to play with or ignite fireworks. “The sparklers look fun and they’re pretty,” she warns, “but they actually burn more than six times hotter than boiling water, so they can be very dangerous to children.”

Not drinking or consuming drugs while operating fireworks, as well as not pointing fireworks at homes, buildings, metal or glass containers or people and being mindful of pets are some other recommendations made by the county.

Another practical precaution is using protective eyewear because fireworks can send shrapnel out. “A small object ricocheting into the eyeball can oftentimes rupture a globe and can cause the loss of that eye,” explains Dr. Amy Laude, a family physician with UTHealth and UT Physicians-Southwest.

It is also recommended to never have any part of your body over the firework. In the case of “dud” fireworks, they must never be re-lit and you should wait 15 or 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.

Proper disposal

Disposing of the remnants of fireworks by putting them in water and keeping them far away from the home is a final step in the list of precautions. Fireworks that are still hot shouldn’t be tossed in trash cans and, in case the person decides to store fireworks, they should be kept in a cool, dry place.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office grants permits to fireworks brick and mortar stores, as well as fireworks stands. Gonzalez, who is also a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, says the agency conducts inspections, typically on a yearly basis, to check things like the store or stand having proper exits, as well as fire extinguishers. Electrical systems and making sure generators are not close to trash or flammable materials are also part of the inspections.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office focuses on inspecting rural selling points, because the others are typically inspected by the local county fire marshal, especially in big counties such as Harris.

Residents are urged to report complaints regarding the sale or illegal use of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of Harris County by calling (281) 999‐2200 or emailing fmosupport@fmo.hctx.net.

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

General Assignment Reporter

Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz is originally from Spain. He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast news and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master's degree...

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