The Burn Ban has been a major issue with Orange County officials for the last few weeks. Temperatures are close to record highs and the lack of rain fall in Southeast Texas has played a major factor in determining if the county should keep the burn ban in effect.

“Talking to the forestry service and the state this morning, they are measuring, right now, the 100-hour fuels are the worst that have ever been measured in the state of Texas,” Jeff Kelley, director of Emergency Management Services said. “We have been in drought conditions since some time in 2010.This is only going to get worse and I don’t know how much worse it can get. We’re just about to be at the high end, or the worse end, of the scale on just about everything they can measure.”

About a third of the Northern portion of the county is in, what is considered, an exceptional drought. Kelley explained that this is as bad as it gets and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

“This is probably some of the worst news I’ve seen, with respect to the drought, in my career in this job and my previous job as a fire fighter,” Kelley said. “I don’t ever recall any portion of Orange County making it into ‘exceptional drought.’”

The Commissioners deliberated for just under an hour on what to do about the upcoming fireworks sales and use. The fact of the matter is that certain use of fireworks could trigger a wildfire that could impose a great threat to many, not just in Orange County, but beyond our county lines.

Knowing the issue on fireworks would come up, Kelley and the Emergency Management Services department looked into what Louisiana and the counties surrounding Orange County are doing when it comes to fireworks.

Louisiana currently has a state-wide burn ban in effect and while it is not illegal to sell fireworks in Louisiana, it is illegal to set any kind of firework off.

Hardin County placed a ban on the selling and use of aerial fireworks (skyrockets with sticks and missiles with fins) last week.

Jefferson County addressed the same issue yesterday, but a decision had not been announced by the time Orange County’s Commissioners’Court began.

Jasper and Newton Counties were looking into banning the use and sale of fireworks all together.

“There’s two ends of the spectrum,” Kelley said.

Under local government code 418.108, the county can ban the use and sale fireworks of any kind. An emergency declaration that’s good for 60 hours, signed by the County Judge, Carl Thibodeaux, goes to the governor’s office and the governor would look to the forest service to see if the conditions for an emergency declaration are met by the county. If the county met those conditions, the governor would return a letter that would extend the restriction of all fireworks from 60 hours until the Commissioners rescinded the emergency declaration. The Commissioners would need to call a special court session seven days later to approve the declaration.

Another option would be under local government code 352, which allows the county to ban the sale and use of aerial fireworks (skyrockets with sticks and missiles with fins). In order to enact a ban on aerial fireworks, the county would have to make a decision before June 15 and the order can only be lifted once the county falls under the 575 mark on the KBDI scale.

The decision to even mention restricting the use of certain fireworks was a hard one to make. Thibodeaux said that in his 16 years as county judge, he’s never prohibited the use of fireworks. Many who own fireworks stands are concerned because for some, that’s part of their family income.

“Nobody really wants to do this,” Thibodeaux said. “That’s like taking apple pie and vanilla ice cream away from the Fourth of July. The key factor is that we’ve got some real dangers out there. One major flame up and people can lose their homes. We can’t depend on people popping off fireworks in a safe area. We need to try to do what we can to minimize the hazard we’re being faced with on the Fourth of July.“

The fact of the matter is that Orange County is in a severe drought and would need at least ten inches of rain over the span of four or five days to neutralize the effect now. Many of the state’s resources to fight wildfires are actually in other states helping with their natural disasters. County officials felt that restrictions needed to be placed, not only to protect Orange County citizens, but the surrounding areas as well.

Most of the Commissioners were in favor of the Judge signing an emergency declaration that falls under local government code 418; however, Commissioners David Dubose (Precinct 1) and Jody Crump (Precinct 4) will be out of town next Monday.

The Commissioners decided to pass a restriction under local government code 352 for the time being; however Precinct 3 Commissioner Owen Burton was against it. If the County Judge feels that a complete ban on all fireworks is necessary, he can sign the emergency declaration at any time.

Other Business:

Rolando L. Rios was not able to attend Monday’s Commissioners’ Court meeting because he ws stuck in Dallas. Rios planned to discuss the redistricting of the County’s precinct lines. A formal decision does not need to be met until August. The meeting will be rescheduled for some time in July.

The Road and Bridge Department received a petition from the citizens that reside on Berwick Drive in the Bridge City Area asking that the speed limit be reduced to 20 miles per hour. The Orange County Sheriff’s department was asked to the traffic that flows in and out of that particular area and they recommended the speed be lowered as well. Since all of the residents that live on Berwick Drive but two signed the petition, the Commissioners agreed to lower the speed limit.

The Commissioners approved awarding the bid on the county’s annual requirements on Prescription Pharmacy Services to Diamond Pharmacy Services. They also awarded the bid regarding their annual requirements for Bulk Prescription Drugs to the Medicine Chest Pharmacy.

The total amount paid for bills this week is: $338,818.41, including include $21,652.83 to U.T.M.B. from the general fund for contract payment due June 15; and $68,076.90 to Cleveland Construction, Inc., from the general for the Justice of Peace drawdown #5.