After hours of heated discussion El Paso County Commissioners approved its fireworks ban through July 4.
It’s the third year in a row that Commissioners Court has made the decision to ban fireworks. The final decision to extend the ban is still up to the governor, who has done exactly that the past two years.
The vote broke down this way: County Judge Veronica Escobar and commissioners Vince Perez and Carlos Leon voted for the ban and commissioners Dan Haggerty and Sergio Lewis voted against it.
Commissioners Court heard from people on both sides of the issue for more than two hours, including fireworks vendors and first responders.
Fire officials from both the city and county pointed to a KBDI index number of 731 -- that's the highest that drought index number has been the past three years.
The drought index number need only be 575 or above in order for the county judge to propose a disaster declaration.
Vendors countered with options, including allowing only what they called safe and sane fireworks or offering to establish safe zones in areas like Montana Vista to pop fireworks.
Escobar said for her it came down to resources to staff those proposed safe zones.
"We really should put a number to the resources that have been expended in the past,” Escobar said. “These are taxpayer resources. You heard from the sheriff's office who says half of his forces simply go to that one area of Montana vista every 4th of July. That means we are diverting resources in a way that's not like anything else, not like any other holiday."
Fernie Viramontes, of TNT Fireworks, spoke out against the ban.
"It’s devastating to the industry, to the other components involved in our industry and I keep re-iterating the fundraising groups, the land owners, the businesses on Montana vista, throughout the county,” Viramontes said. “We don't include all the county ... There's a lot of business that goes on and the fireworks industries help promote that business."
Some business owners in the Montana Vista area said they depend on the money they make from people shooting fireworks in that area.
The Montana Vista volunteer fire department provided numbers showing a ban on fireworks the past two years has cut fires in the area in more than half.
The County expects to hear from the governor by Friday on what his decision will be.