A recent burn ban issued for 33 counties, including Cullman, could cause a drop in sales for local fireworks vendors, and has probably caused the cancellation of at least one public fireworks display.
Fairview Mayor Randall Shedd said a display scheduled for July 4 will most likely be postponed until Labor Day, but hadn’t been officially canceled as of Tuesday.
“This is done as a community effort with churches and the town cooperatively, and from what I’ve heard from some church representatives, unless we get rain, it will probably be postponed,” he said.
The ban probably won’t affect an annual July 4 display at Smith Lake Park, said Cullman County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Robbie Camp.
The ban, which exempts displays fired over water, was approved by Gov. Bob Riley recently after the Alabama Forestry Commission declared emergency drought conditions in most of north Alabama. According to officials with the Forestry Commission, the ban makes setting fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes, building a campfire or bonfire, or discharging any type of fireworks unlawful.
Camp said the Smith Lake fireworks display will be held pending approval from the Forestry Commission, but Cullman officials feel confident the display won’t be affected by the ban. The Forestry Commission is accepting applications for organized displays, including those sponsored by municipalities or other organizations, and consults with state Fire Marshal Ed Paulk before issuing permits.
“Right now, it’s not going to have any effect on us,” Camp said. “As of now, the show should go on as planned.”
The ban was issued as a result of a Drought Mitigation Center report that upgraded 20 Alabama counties in the northern half of the state to the most severe level on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s five-level drought classification system.
While meteorologists expect drought conditions to continue through August, fireworks vendors in Cullman County said they’re hoping for rain, or that people will buy fireworks to shoot over water. Some vendors located near Interstate 65 said they hope out-of-state travelers who stop to buy fireworks will off-set a possible decrease in sales because of the ban.
George Roberts, owner of Crazy Q, a fireworks shop just off the interstate in Good Hope, said he starts stocking up on pyrotechnics near the end of May to prepare for July 4.
“We’re praying for rain,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it sure is going to hurt a lot of us.”
Roberts said he has sold fireworks for 10 or 12 years, and he has never seen drought conditions as severe.
“Not like this,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had this long of a dry spell.”
At Crazy Bill’s Fireworks, next door to Crazy Q, Carol Parker was helping stock shelves this week. She and the Roberts’ may be business rivals, but are also friends, she said.
“I have every hope that it’s going to rain,” Parker said.
The burn ban will be in effect until lifted by the Forestry Commission, leaving Parker and others uncertain of what to expect in sales this July 4.
“I’m not even sure, but I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” she said.
Tom Moore, owner of Discount Fireworks on U.S. Highway 278, said banning cigarettes makes more sense than banning fireworks, since less than 3 percent of fires are started by fireworks and about 38 percent are started by cigarettes. He said about 90 percent of material from fireworks burns out before reaching the ground.
Even with sales to out-of-state travelers, Moore said he expects about a 30 percent decrease in business because of the ban. Firework sales haven’t picked up yet, and probably won’t until closer to July 4, he said.
“[The ban] hasn’t affected any sales yet, but it will,” he said.
Cullman County Sheriff Tyler Roden said he wants to encourage residents to abide by the ban. Enforcing the regulation could be difficult, he said, and law enforcement officials want the public to be responsible.
“It will be difficult to enforce, but we will make every effort to enforce the ban,” he said. “All citizens need to realize the ban has been issued for a reason, and that is to protect us.”
According to officials with the Forestry Commission, prolonged drought conditions locally have created an atmosphere where the probability of catastrophic fire activity is high. This month, 139 fires have occurred in Alabama burning 2,222 acres. While the northern half of the state has been placed under a drought emergency, the remaining 34 counties will remain in a fire alert status, according to the Forestry Commission.