City limits fireworks; County in state of emergency

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Both the city and the county of Socorro prohibited the sale and use of missile-type fireworks recently.

The restrictions stem from the extreme drought that the area is currently experiencing. In Catron County, Socorro County’s western neighbor, extreme drought conditions were a factor in the Whitewater Baldy Complex blaze getting out of hand.

With this in mind, the city proclaimed for the first time in its history that only certain types of fireworks could be used or sold within its limits, effective for 30 days starting on June 6, in an attempt to “minimize the risk associated with regular Fourth of July activities.” Following suit and also declaring a state of emergency, the board of county commissioners proclaimed similar restrictions, especially for the county’s rural areas, for 65 days starting on June 12.

The restrictions do not effect the commercial fireworks show put on by EMRTC for Independence Day, however. EMRTC employs its own firetrucks for the event, and the location at which the larger fireworks are shot up into the air is cleared of all flammable material, such as grass.

“I’ve never had a fire yet,” said Kelly McClain, who’s in charge of the fireworks show for EMRTC.

McClain has a fireworks permit that allows her to operate the larger combustibles. Persons without the permit must follow the fireworks proclamations of the city and county.

“We want people to sell the right ones,” said City Clerk Pat Salome. “We want people to buy the right ones.”

Fireworks that are still permissible in the city and county include cone fountains, crackling devices, cylindrical fountains, flitter sparklers, ground spinners, illuminating torches, wheels and toy smoke devices. To use these types of fireworks however, people need to be in a paved or barren area and have a source of water, like a filled bucket, readily available.

These smaller types of fireworks that don’t shoot up into the air still pose a threat of starting a fire, Salome said, but state statute prohibits the city government from putting a complete ban on all fireworks.

Non-permissible ones include missile-type and stick-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, ground audible devices and firecrackers.

Along with these, campfires, open fires and the burning of vegetation or garbage are prohibited in the county because, with the drought, these “fire hazards represent a significant, immediate threat to the peace, safety, health and welfare of Socorro County,” according to the board’s emergency ordinance.

A wildfire in this area would “severely tax current local, state and federal resources,” according to the emergency ordinance. A fire that took $4 million to put out would deplete the county’s general fund. The White-Water Baldy Complex fire has cost $20 million so far.

Because of this, the county fire marshal can distribute permits for controlled burns only, but the decision whether to hand one out or not is at his discretion, according to the ordinance. The marshal also has the power to enforce the county’s restrictions on fireworks.

Enforcement of the restrictions in the city is the responsibility of the Socorro Police Department and Fire Department. They will inspect all fireworks stands in the city to ensure compliance, according to a letter the city sent out to vendors dated June 4.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” said Fire Chief Joe Gonzales.

The Fire Department has contacted vendors who have sold in Socorro in previous years about the restrictions so they have a chance to buy the right inventory for their businesses, Gonzales said.

The sale of fireworks is a means of income for some vendors, Salome said. However, he cautions sellers to adhere to the restrictions because of the increased risk to property.

For violators of those restrictions, a zero tolerance policy is in place. The penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to a year for the city and a $300 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail for the county.

As has been a custom for the last 20 years, the Socorro Fire Department will partner with several other agencies, like the BLM and Fish and Wildlife, and some contracted firefighters to increase the presence of fire-safety-trained personnel in the city for Independence Day, Gonzales said.

Magdalena banned missile-type fireworks within the village limits on June 4 for 30 days.