Sebesta, Matt

ANGLETON — Residents are barred from celebrating Independence Day with certain fireworks in unincorporated areas of the county — unless weekend weather forecasts of rain prove true.

County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to ban outdoor burning in all unincorporated areas of the county for the next 90 days, and supported an order to prohibit the sale and use of fireworks classified as “skyrockets with sticks” and “missiles with fins” during the upcoming Fourth of July season.

The ban includes burning any combustible material outside of an enclosure serving to contain all flames and sparks. Contained barbecues are permitted, but not open-flame pits, according to information provided by the county.

Any violation is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine.

A rise in fire calls due to outdoor burning, including two Monday, led to the recommendation from emergency management personnel, Fire Marshal Martin Vela said.

“We have trained people for public displays, but with a consumer that is not adequately trained … the minute they send that firework in the air, it becomes unpredictable,” Vela told commissioners. “It endangers their neighboring properties, as well as their own.”

A tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday was expected to bring an uptick in shower and thunderstorm chances in coastal areas of Louisiana and Texas this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

County officials likely will lift both the burn ban and fireworks restrictions if that is the case, County Judge Matt Sebesta said.

“If we get 4 or 5 inches of rain this weekend county wide, we’ll be in good shape,” Sebesta said.

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index for Brazoria County was 555 as of Tuesday, up 10 points from the day before, Vela said.

A reading of up to 200 on the index is considered good conditions. From 400 to 600, the ground is dryer with increased chances for burns getting out of control. Between 600 and 800, the ground is very dry, greatly increasing the risk for out-of-control flames, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, which puts together the index. The index was at 731 Tuesday for large swaths of Brazoria County, including coastal areas and the western end, Vela said.

“That’s extremely high, to where property owners are assessing whether they can even go outside and just barbecue,” he said.

Even in areas with an index of just 281, gusting winds in the evening typically suck all the moisture out of the ground, Vela said.

“We could get that four or five days of rain like they’re predicting, but that could be just in a specific area,” he said. “It might not get those areas where we have the 731 KBDI.”

Sebesta can rescind both the burn ban and the fireworks restriction at any point during the 90-day period if the county sees five consecutive days with a Keetch-Byram Drought Index below 400, but the state requires fireworks restrictions be in place by Friday, Assistant District Attorney Mary Shine said.

“This weekend’s rain, if we get it, will make a huge difference, but if we don’t, you will have met the deadline,” she said. “But if it keeps rising and we don’t get the rain, then we can’t put the order in place.”

Erinn Callahan is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

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