El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar has informed ABC-7 that her Declaration for Local Disaster due to drought conditions in the Borderland has been extended by Gov. Rick Perry through 7 a.m. on July 5.
This is in addition to Tuesday's 3-2 vote by County Commissioners that ensures a ban on the sale, use and possession of all fireworks in El Paso County this Fourth of July for the first time in memory.
After a 3½-hour Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Escobar and Commissioners Willie Gandara Jr. and Anna Perez voted to ban fireworks completely. Only Commissioners Sergio Lewis and Dan Haggerty voted against the ban.
"I'm grateful that, with the Governor's and commissioners' support, our families can rest a little easier," Escobar told ABC-7 Wednesday afternoon, "and be safer this Fourth of July."
At the start of Tuesday's special meeting, during which dozens of people from the fireworks industry spoke out against the ban, Escobar used a PowerPoint presentation to show how dry conditions are in the area.
El Paso County's Drought Index number, which comes from the Texas Forest Service, is at 693 and rising on a scale that only goes up to 800. At 575 or above, Commissioners have the right to ban aerial fireworks, which they did on June 6. In two weeks, without any precipitation, that number is projected by the Texas Forest Service to be at 714.
During the meeting, several County fire officials testified, but it was the testimony of Sheriff Richard Wiles, who was mocked at times by the crowd of about 100, that seemed to sway the Commissioners most. Wiles spoke described the sea of 30,000 people that pack into a 6-square-mile area along Far East Montana every year as a drain on his department's resources.
Wiles said his deputies will be working to enforce the fireworks ban. The sale, use or possession of fireworks is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Some vendors, including Shirley Baca, spoke during Tuesday's meeting of losing "hundreds of thousands of dollars" because they had already ordered fireworks.
"After your meeting when you banned aerials, we thought it was a green light to order," Baca told Commissioners Court Tuesday. "Who is going to give us that money back? They are not going to take the fireworks back!"
ABC-7 also spoke with Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker.
Dean-Walker said she expects many El Pasoans will now head to Hudspeth on the 4th and is currently drafting her own drought disaster declaration to submit to Governor Perry.
"Half the world is burning up," she said.
Fireworks are not banned in New Mexico. Still, Dona Ana County officials said Wednesday they will be keeping a close watch and make sure all rules and guidelines are strictly enforced.