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Bell County to ban fireworks ahead of July 4th with new disaster declaration

The Bell County Commissioners court doesn't want to hurt local businesses or stop shows, but the fire danger in the county was getting too high to ignore.

BELTON, Texas — Bell County Judge David Blackburn and the Bell County commissioners court is working on disaster declaration to ban some, or all, fireworks ahead of the July 4th celebrations. 

Both Blackburn and local commissioners said Monday it's not a move they particularly wanted to make, but the danger to the county was getting too high. 

"To me it's just...darned if you do, darned if you don't," Blackburn said Monday morning. 

"I feel bad for people who are stocking up to sell those things. Now a few days before, we are going to not let them sell them," Commissioner Russell Schneider said.

Most commissioners said they don't like preventing businesses from selling, and they didn't want to potentially cancel firework shows, but the county's drought had now reached a tipping point.

Bell County had 75 grass fires in just the last two weeks, according to Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt. One fire on Friday burned over 70 acres of land. A farmer was simply cutting hay, but a few sparks was all it took. 

"The majority of fire departments have reached out and expressed their concerns," Mahlstedt said. 

Bell County is now at 612 on Keetch-Byram Drought Index. Anything over 600 is considered an "extreme fire danger."

Mahlstedt said 16 counties have already issued a fireworks ban "of some kind" as of Monday. 

RELATED: Certain fireworks prohibited in McLennan County through July 4

Bell County could have issued a regular order to ban fireworks if they had done so by June 15, but officials chose to wait. McLennan County has already issued such an order. Bell County must now issue a disaster declaration in order to ban fireworks for July 4. 

Blackburn said it may be possible to word the declaration so that fireworks can still be used if there is suddenly rain in a week, but they will need to find out what the options are. 

The county plans to release the declaration Wednesday. 

RELATED: Catch fireworks at Fort Hood's Freedom Fest this Friday

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