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Here's How to Use Fireworks Safely and Legally in Harris County on July 4

Here's How to Use Fireworks Safely and Legally in Harris County on July 4
Flickr/Jorgen Kesseler
This rainy summer brings good news for fireworks enthusiasts. In recent years, a series of bad Texas droughts have sometimes led to blanket prohibitions on pyrotechnics. But with no burn bans currently in effect for the Houston area, fireworks sales began in Harris County last Saturday. The usual fireworks rules will apply this July 4.

So what exactly are those rules? For starters, fireworks are illegal within city limits. If you want to launch explosives without facing fines of $500 to $2,000 per firework, go to an unincorporated part of Harris County.

ArcGIS, an online mapping service, offers a handy map showing which portions of Harris County are unincorporated. The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office also has a less-intuitive search tool that lets you verify this info for specific addresses. Scroll to the bottom of the fire marshal homepage and click "Check my Address."

Although the tool won’t tell you directly whether an address is in Houston, it does say whether the address is serviced by city agencies like the Houston Police Department and the Houston Independent School District.

“If you see ‘Houston’ anywhere [in the search results], you know you’re in the city and shouldn’t be able to shoot fireworks,” Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, said.

Fireworks are heavily regulated for a reason — they're dangerous.

Eleven Americans were killed by fireworks in 2015, according to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Reloadable fireworks were involved in nine of those deaths. There were roughly 11,900 fireworks injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms that year — including 8,000 in a single-month period from June 19 to July 19.

Until recently, fireworks were essentially contraband in Houston — meaning you weren’t even allowed to transport them through town. But a 2013 state law makes it legal for people to bring fireworks into big Texas cities so long as they are packaged, unopened and kept in the glove compartment, trunk or rear part of a vehicle.

Once you’re outside of Houston, there are a few more rules to keep in mind. People under the age of 16 can’t shoot fireworks. Neither can drunk people. Don’t launch fireworks within 600 feet of a school, asylum, hospital or church, or within 100 feet of fireworks stands or any business that sells flammable liquids or gases, like a gas station. Don’t launch them from a car or toward anything or anyone.

Oh, and also, it’s illegal to use fireworks for “wildlife control purposes” unless you have a license to do so. So while it may be tempting to use your amateur pyrotechnics show as an excuse to clear out an opossum infestation, that’s technically a violation of the Texas Occupations Code (as well as a mean-spirited way to get rid of possums).

Know those rules and you should be good to go, at least when it comes to the law. The Harris County Fire Marshal also has a list of pointers on how to keep safe and avoid starting fires.

The fire marshal recommends that people keep water on hand in case of accidents. Pets should be kept inside and comfortable, so that they don't freak out when they hear loud bangs.

“Create a calming environment" for pets, a guide advises. “Play soothing music or keep the TV on.”

And though Independence Day looms less than a week away, fireworks sales have yet to skyrocket.

"Slow, like it is all the time," Jason Murff, owner of the Texas Fireworks stand in north Houston, said when asked how fireworks sales were going. "It's always slow until the last three days [before July 4]."

With no burn ban this year — and transportation of fireworks through cities now legal — the Houston Press asked Murff if he was feeling optimistic about business. "A little bit," he said. "But not too terribly much. I don't see much of a change in it."
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Stephen Paulsen is a journalist and native Houstonian. He writes about crime, food, drugs, urban planning and extremists of all kinds. He covers local news for Houston Press and cannabis policy for Leafly.