After enduring the most dangerous and extended drought and fire season in state history last summer, officials said East Texans can expect “normal” conditions this Fourth of July.
“Last year it was so dangerous, anything that might make a spark was a potential disaster,” Texas Forestry Service Fire and Emergency Dispatcher Gerry Haverland said. “It’s not the tinderbox it was last year.”
Haverland said fire danger is “moderate,” which is considered normal for this time of year.
Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton said East Texas is leaps and bounds better than a year ago. By mid-June last year, Smith County already had endured several 100-degree days in a row, Seaton said.
Triple-digit heat takes a toll on vegetation, he said. In recent days, Seaton said he had traveled the county looking at how vegetation was recuperating following the afternoon heat. If temperatures persist and rains don’t come, the region could see conditions similar to last year in a matter of weeks.
The county still is a long way from a burn ban, he said.
Determining the need for a ban depends on several variables, including the Keetch-Byram Drought Index and the number of grassfires difficult to contain, Seaton said. The drought index measures moisture in vegetation that could act as fuel for fires.
The index ranges from zero to 800, zero being under water and 800 being extremely arid, combustible conditions.
Once the index reaches 600, fire officials begin to look at other variables and consider taking action, Seaton said. He said the index reported a countywide average of 230 on Tuesday.
KYTX CBS19 Chief Meteorologist John Adams said Tyler was a foot below average in rainfall at this time last year. Tyler is more than three inches below average this year.
“We’re still abnormally dry, but it’s certainly better than last year,” he said.
Seaton said fire activity is down. Last year, he warned residents about lawnmowers sparking fires by striking rocks but conditions don’t warrant those concerns yet, he said.
Chris Harris, owner of Pappy’s Fireworks, said the green landscape and no concern about a burn ban have boosted his sales.
Some fireworks were restricted before July 4 last year and the Smith County burn ban came soon after. Harris said the fear of sparking a major fire was enough to prevent residents from celebrating with fireworks. He said sales were down 50 percent last year compared to previous years.
“When it’s dry, people worry,” he said. “We are way, way, way up at this point from last year. We’re moving a lot of inventory.”
His stands opened Sunday and are expecting brisk sales through July 4.
Seaton said revelers using fireworks should still exercise caution, especially where they are being lit and where they could potentially fall. It’s still considered reckless destruction of property if a firework celebration goes awry, he said.
Haverland recommended residents keep a bucket of water or water hose handy to extinguish flames created by fireworks.
“We want everyone to have a good Fourth of July, but you’ve got to remember they can be dangerous,” Seaton said.