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Fireworks vendors say El Paso County ban on sale, use hurts nonprofit organizations

El Paso Times logo El Paso Times 7/2/2020 Maria Cortes Gonzalez, El Paso Times
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Some fireworks vendors are asking the county judge to reconsider the ban on their sales, stating it is hurting nonprofit organizations.

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a ban on the sale and use of fireworks Monday as part of a disaster declaration. In a news conference, Samaniego cited drought conditions and the need for social distancing over the holiday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To restrict fireworks, Texas counties must reach 575 on the Keetch Byram Drought Index, a statewide 0-to-800 scale drought index updated daily by the Texas A&M Forest Service. The higher the number, the worse the drought conditions, the email explained. 

On Monday, El Paso County's KBDI was 583, indicating that hot and dry conditions posed a threat of large, dangerous and fast moving wildfires. 

In an email, Samaniego said the ban takes effect at noon Friday. It will expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

Samaniego also prohibited all public outdoor gatherings in the unincorporated areas of El Paso County until 6 a.m. Monday. 

"It is critical that we all do our part to keep our community safe," Samaniego said in the email. "While fireworks and Fourth of July festivities are a part of who we are as a community, we must remember the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic, and that cases in our community and in the state are continuing to rise."

a man cutting a cake: Ryan Baysinger sells fireworks at the Alamo Fireworks stand on State Line Road in Chaparral, New Mexico, on Thursday, July 2, 2020. El Paso will close its fireworks stands ahead of the Fourth of July, but New Mexico will be selling. © Mark Lambie / El Paso Times Ryan Baysinger sells fireworks at the Alamo Fireworks stand on State Line Road in Chaparral, New Mexico, on Thursday, July 2, 2020. El Paso will close its fireworks stands ahead of the Fourth of July, but New Mexico will be selling.

There are 6,389 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 132 deaths in El Paso County as of Thursday. El Paso has reported nine straight days of triple-digit increases. 

Officials said 180 patients were hospitalized as of Thursday, with 74 in intensive care and 30 on ventilators. 

More: Where to see professional July 4th fireworks shows in El Paso

Several El Paso nonprofit organizations, however, said they rely on partnerships with fireworks vendors to raise money. It doesn't help that donations are significantly down because of the economic downturn, they said.

“Our boys Bel Air Football look forward to this fundraiser every year not only because it helps them fund the football equipment we so desperately need to be competitive, but also because they also get to help the La Posada Homeless Shelter as well,” Jorge Levario said in an email with other nonprofits.

a group of people standing in front of a store: Kristen Lewis describes fireworks at Alamo Fireworks on State Line Road in Chaparral, New Mexico, on Thursday, July 2, 2020. © Mark Lambie / El Paso Times Kristen Lewis describes fireworks at Alamo Fireworks on State Line Road in Chaparral, New Mexico, on Thursday, July 2, 2020.

“These students and athletes have missed out on so many things this year. I hope the county and Judge can see it in their hearts to drop the ban on fireworks — for the good of our community and the charities and nonprofits that rely on this time of year to fund our efforts to support our community," Levario said.

Myra Padilla, a volunteer for the Hanks girls basketball club, expressed similar concerns in the same email.

“The Hanks High School girls’ basketball team uses our fireworks fundraiser each year to help fund our trips to tournaments where they are seen by top college recruiters, which doesn’t happen in El Paso. These trips are essential to getting recruited for a college scholarship opportunity."

The Animal Rescue League of El Paso was included in the email as an organization that relies on a fireworks partnership to raise funds for the shelter and adoption activities.

At the El Paso County Commissioners meeting Monday, a representative for TNT talked about all the extra steps that had been taken to ensure the safety of customers and employees and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"On our side, we have been very proactive to help the safety, not only of our people, but the people that purchase fireworks from us," Fernando Viramontes said.

Since they opened earlier in late June, the firework stands are making sure employees were wearing masks and face shields and constantly sanitizing, offering curbside service and maintaining social distancing among customers.

Viramontes added that they owned lots around the fireworks stands on Montana and were not allowing people to use the area to set off fireworks.

"This is a business that is seasonal ... unfortunately we are a business that is only about seven to 10 days long and trying to make a living for a whole year and most of the groups are fundraising groups. It would be really hard for this (ban) to happen. It would be devastating for the industry and individuals as well," he said.

Samaniego praised the vendors for the steps they had taken. However, he held his stance on the ban.

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María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150; mcortes@elpasotimes.com; @EPTMaria on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Fireworks vendors say El Paso County ban on sale, use hurts nonprofit organizations

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