Officials warn of potential problems due to dry, windy conditions

HARLINGEN — Fireworks are about to turn the summer sky into a gushing cascade of blazing colors.

Tonight, residents will celebrate the Fourth of July by showing off their patriotic spirit with fireworks’ displays across

Cameron County’s unincorporated areas, where local laws allow them.

But authorities warn dry conditions could turn a spark into a raging fire.

“With winds and as hot as it’s been, it’s very dry,” said Cirilo Rodriguez, assistant chief of the Harlingen Fire Department.

In Harlingen, temperatures will climb to about 98 degrees with southeast winds fanning dry conditions at 15 mph, said Joshua Schroeder, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville.

Residents, if they are going to shoot the fireworks off despite the dry conditions, are urged to keep buckets of water handy to try to put any grass fire before it turns into a brush fire, Sheriff Omar Lucio said.

“It’s very dangerous to begin with,” Lucio said. “Some people are not careful enough. Everything is dry and any spark on a roof could start a fire. Grass can catch fire real quickly and before you know, it’s out of control.”

Within city limits, stepped-up police patrols are expected to enforce local ordinances banning the use of fireworks there, Harlingen Police Department Commander John Parrish said.

Possession of fireworks within city limits is against the law, which allows police and firefighters to confiscate them, according to a police department press release.

“We’re adding extra patrols just because of the volume of calls and to protect everyone and keep everyone safe,” Parrish said.

Lucio warned against allowing children to play with fireworks.

“It’s dangerous for kids,” he said. “They should not let kids handle fireworks.”

Authorities will also be on the lookout for revelers who fire gunshots into the sky as part of the one of holiday’s most dangerous pastimes.

“It’s a big problem,” Lucio said. “What goes up must come down.”

Lucio warned gunshots can penetrate roofs or start house fires.

But most dangerous of all, stray bullets can be deadly, he said.

Last New Year’s Eve, state Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, escaped serious injury when a stray bullet struck him in the head outside a home in a rural neighborhood north of Weslaco.

At Valley Baptist Medical Center, surgeons removed the bullet fragment that had penetrated his skull, lodging itself into the dura mater, the top layer of the brain.

“It felt like a sledgehammer hit me over the head, Martinez said at the time.

Now, Martinez is pushing for law that would make the reckless discharge of a firearm, now a Class A misdemeanor, into a criminal offense.

Tonight, it’s expected to be the fireworks that are dangerous.