AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Fire Department does not want a repeat of last year’s Fourth of July when officials said fireworks were to blame for a fire that damaged three homes in northeast Austin.
The fire resulted in $240,000 in damages. Austin Fire officials said the fire sent more than eight of its a-shift crews to the scene.
This year, AFD will have its special enforcement teams out and about. These are teams of fire officials that will be across the city on July 4, as well as several days before and after to make sure no one is breaking the law and popping fireworks in the city, as they are illegal within city limits.
Anyone who is caught in possession of illegal fireworks will be cited a fine that can range anywhere from $528 to $2,000. If AFD finds those fireworks contributed to a fire, there could be criminal charges.
“The way things are trending, we’re looking, shaping up a lot like 2011,” said Tom Vocke, a division chief at the city’s fire marshal’s office. “Unless we get some tropical moisture coming in that significantly wets things down in Central Texas, we’re going to have a long, long rest of the summer and a long fall as well.”
Vocke said he encourages people to attend a professional fireworks show such as city or organization-based events that have been permitted and approved.
Travis, Williamson and Hays counties have gone as far as banning stick rockets and missiles with fins or rudders from being sold. County leaders have also limited the sale of aerial fireworks.
The division chief said fireworks fires not only affect those immediately impacted by those fires but could cause delayed responses to neighbors.
“Recognize that once the fire truck from your area gets busy with something else, you’re not getting a fire truck for a little while, maybe in some cases on the edges of the city where responses are slowed down, because they’re already working a grass fire down the road from your neighbors,” he said. “So you can even have a delayed response, because we know the Fourth of July is a busy time.”
Austin Fire enforcement teams wrote 10 citations during last year’s Fourth of July weekend. The department also said it confiscated lots of illegal fireworks.
Firefighters also responded to 13 dumpster fires, seven trash and three grass fires, which AFD said were all caused by fireworks last year. That’s in addition to the regular call volume the department deals with every day. For perspective, during a normal shift, AFD said it usually sees one or two of each when it comes to those dumpster, trash or grass fires. Firefighters also responded to two garage fires they said were the direct result of discarded hot fireworks material.
With burn bans across the Central Texas area, fire officials are hoping people will heed their warning.
“It’s not just the grass and the trees that are dry,” Vocke said. “It’s the structures and all the other things that are around as well the roofing and the materials and the gutters and all those things that get really dry that leave, when mixed with fireworks, leave potential significant damage to the structures.”