County Judge Declares State of Disaster


Just over a week after a grass fire consumed over 230 acres in two counties (Ellis and Dallas), destroying one home and five vehicles as well as damaging 12 other structures, County Judge Carol Bush has issued a declaration of disaster including the prohibition of the use of fireworks.            

“The Commissioners’ Court has already instituted a ban on outdoor burning, which prohibits the discharge of any fireworks within the unincorporated areas of Ellis County; and, they have prohibited the sale of restricted fireworks, specifically skyrockets with sticks and missiles with fins,” said Bush.  “But because the drought conditions are so severe at this time, in the interest of public safety, I felt that this declaration of disaster was necessary to ensure that the provisions of the Court’s burn ban are fully enforceable.”            

Bush cited last Saturday’s blaze as evidence of the danger.            

“It took almost 180 people approximately two days to stop that fire,” she said.  “How fortunate we were that no one was killed; but, a great deal of property was lost.”            

Fire Marshal’s Investigator Jim Pharr spoke with the fire chiefs in Avalon, Bardwell, Ennis, Ferris, Italy, Maypearl, Midlothian, Ovilla, Red Oak, Waxahachie, and Emergency Service District #6.  “All are in favor of declaring a disaster due to high fire danger and continuing a burn ban until we have relief due to a change in the weather pattern,” he said.             

Under the Keetch Byram Drought Index, high fire danger is measured as 400 to 600, with extreme fire danger at 600 to 800 on the scale.  Parts of Ellis County already exceed 600, while the aggregate number for the entire county is over 500 and rising rapidly.  Strong, arid winds only contribute to the problem.            

As Smokey the Bear used to say – “It only takes a spark” under these conditions.            

According to the Governor’s Office, drought conditions exist throughout the State of Texas, with some 236 of Texas’ 254 counties currently banning outdoor burning; at least 176 of those have prohibited discharge of fireworks as well.  Many have declared a state of disaster.The situation prompted Governor Rick Perry to support Bush’s declaration of disaster, authorizing the extension of restrictions that may exceed the restrictions authorized in the Local Government Code.            

“The Texas Division of Emergency Management has reviewed your request for an extension and recommends that it be granted,” stated Governor Rick Perry.            

The Declaration of Disaster Including the Prohibition of the Use of Fireworks issued by Bush on June 28 is therefore extended through 7 a.m. on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.            

Specifically, as in the order approved by the Commissioners’ Court on June 13, the use of any fireworks – including firecrackers, sparklers and other common fireworks – is prohibited in the unincorporated areas of Ellis County.  In addition, no one may sell “skyrockets with sticks” or “missiles with fins.”            

The County’s authority does not supersede the authority of cities within the county to host professional fireworks displays if city officials decide to go ahead with planned events.            

“We all enjoy the beauty, the fun, and the tradition of fireworks displays on the Fourth,” Bush said.  “But it can turn devastating in an instant.  This is about protecting life and property.  That’s it, plain and simple.”