By BRITTANY FHOLER The Belton Journal On Tuesday, June 28, following an evening of rainfall, Judge David Blackburn released a statement, amending the Drought Disaster Declaration to authorize the sale and use of some fireworks from July 1 through July 4. “The overnight rains we experienced across the County, bringing up to 3 inches in some parts of the County, have mitigated against the fire dangers that we have been seeing,” Judge Blackburn said. “The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) rating dropped almost 60 points to 560.23, taking the County out of the highest danger range on the index.” Blackburn also pointed to the recent rainfall’s impact on wildfires. The county has seen no such fires since the precipitation, a noted drop from daily average of five such fires that have been taken place recently. “To be sure, we are not out of the drought, and, no doubt, without more rain we will see the fire danger go back up and wildfires return,” Blackburn said, “but the recent rains have brought some short-term relief…relief that should allow the prudent use of fireworks to occur.” Blackburn emphasized the importance of personal responsibility when it came to individuals planning to use fireworks over the holiday. “We still need everyone to exercise extreme caution when it comes to anything that can be an ignitor,” Judge Blackburn said. “Please continue to be very cautious and prudent as you enjoy the 4th of July. Tuesday’s announcement comes on the heels of Monday’s vote by the Bell County Commissioners to uphold the county’s Disaster Declaration issued last week. “As the commissioners know, as the Fire Marshal knows, as almost everybody in Bell County knows, conditions are very, very dry in the county right now,” Blackburn told the commissioners. “Our drought status is classified as 100 percent of the county’s abnormally dry, almost 70 percent is classified in severe drought at this time.” Blackburn stated that there had been 33 wildfires in the seven days prior to the issuance of the disaster declaration and 75 total wildfires for the month of June. More than a dozen residents, fireworks sellers and employees voice their concerns and opposition to the disaster declaration, which prohibits the sale and use of fireworks in the county without a permit. Many asked on Monday that the Commissioners at least allow a four-day sale period, of July 1-4. Chester Davis, who is the president of the Texas Pyrotechnic Association and owns American Fireworks, said that he knows that counties are in a deep drought situation but wanted to offer a solution that can “save the Fourth of July” and also save fireworks sellers from possible bankruptcy by having the county continue to ban the sale and use of stick rockets and missiles and limit the selling days down from 11 days to that four-day period. He said other counties that have banned the use of fireworks have at least allowed that selling period. He said that this would allow for a chance for the precipitation and moisture that has been expected to occur. Later Monday evening, the cold front that had swept through would bring thunderstorms across Central Texas. In addition to fireworks stand owners and operators, several members of the Bethel Church youth group, of Temple, attended the meeting and shared their thoughts. Many of the youth help operate the Monster Fireworks stand in Nolanville every summer, and the funds from the sales of fireworks help fund the youth group’s activities, according to Sarah Thomas, a parent leader at the church. The youth group participates in local, statewide and national mission trips as well as ministry outreaches, summer camps and conferences, Thomas said. “Our youth group consists of several low-income families, students with special needs and numerous single parent families which would typically prohibit them from participating and being involved, and the partnership with the Nolanville Monster Fireworks covers about 90 percent of our student’s cost for activities, by bringing in close to $40,000 a season,” Thomas said. “By prohibiting the sale of fireworks, even just for 10 days, you are barring our students from a lifetime of memories and moments.” Commissioners acknowledged the impact that affirming the disaster declaration would have economically but said that public safety had to be put first. Commissioner Bobby Whitson, who serves as a volunteer firefighter for Salado, made the motion to ratify the declaration. Whitson said that the fire danger is “absolutely real”. “I’ve heard arguments all week long, since the disaster declaration was given, some of them against the fact that fireworks cause injury, some of them that their pets go crazy, some that we have a large veteran population here that has PTSD issues. None of those are related to the discussion we’re having today,” Whitson said. “Fireworks are legal. Fireworks are something that we have had a long history of celebrating with, that most of us enjoy.” He added that this disaster declaration was put in place because life is more important. “If we get some rain, we all want fireworks up here,” Whitson said. “We want our businesses to be successful. We want to celebrate the Fourth of July like we customarily do, and if rain hits the ground, that thing can be rescinded immediately.” Anywhere from 0.35 inches to 1.62 inches of rain was recorded across parts of Bell County by Tuesday morning, according to the U.S.G.S. The county’s burn ban remains in place.