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Fireworks stand operators offer items to celebrate July 4th with a bang

By ALLISON MILES
June 27, 2012 at 1:27 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.

Store manager John Svoboda scans the shelves at the Alamo Fireworks Megastore  looking for a particular package to fill an order.

SAFETY TIPS:

• Use fireworks outdoors only.

• Have water at the ready, either a hose or bucket.

• Never alter or combine fireworks and always follow safety instructions.

• Never relight a "dud." Instead, wait 20 minutes and soak it in water.

• Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."

• Only people age 12 and older should handle sparklers of any kind.

• Never use homemade fireworks made of illegal explosives. They can kill you. Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department.

Source: National Council on Fireworks Safety website

handling the heat

Operating a fireworks stand this Independence Day season? Jessica Aebly, who has operated stands for several years, offers advice:

• Use fans and stay hydrated.

• Avoid eating big midday meals. Instead, munch throughout the day.

• If you get tired, drink more water. Don't go to sleep.

• Avoid dairy products.

Banned

Some area counties have banned aerial fireworks because of the dry conditions.

• Refugio County commissioners have banned fireworks with sticks, fins and rutters. General fireworks are not prohibited while the country remains under a burn ban.

• Goliad County has banned aerial fireworks, such as bottle rockets or Roman candles,

• DeWitt County commissioners have banned all aerial fireworks in the rural areas. Banned fireworks include "skyrockets with sticks" and "missiles with fins."

The following counties have not banned fireworks

• Jackson County

• Calhoun County

• Lavaca County

• Victoria County

David Yeater strolled the Alamo Fireworks Megastore with notebook in hand as he hunted for, literally, the biggest bang for his buck.

"Homeland Security?" he asked, consulting his fireworks wish list. "Blonde Joke?"

"I'm the blonde joke," retorted Debbie Conboy, Yeater's best friend and business partner, who joined the search.

Fireworks stands statewide opened Sunday, offering Texas thrill-seekers a chance to celebrate July 4 with a sizzle.

Berkshire residents Yeater and Conboy grabbed up about $900 worth of Independence Day explosives Wednesday, but still planned to shell out a couple hundred more before the holiday's arrival.

High-dollar buys are nothing unusual, said John Svoboda, who operates the megastore. While sales average $100 to $150, he said some people pay closer to $3,000 for their holiday goodies.

Reloadables sell well during both the summer and winter seasons, he said, while the smaller ground or novelty items are more a July 4 ritual.

"I think it's because people are just outside more at this time of the year," Svoboda explained.

Svoboda, a 13-year fireworks veteran, said he expected a strong sales year, partly because lower gas prices meant more people traveling and driving past his store. The mid-week holiday also meant many people are on the lookout for something to do.

He said his air-conditioned space also allowed shoppers a place to avoid the scorching summer heat.

"People end up staying here longer," he said with a smile. "We had some guys in here the other day we thought would never leave. But we enjoy it. We love to have people come in and look around."

Across town, at a yellow Big Tex stand off U.S. Highway 59 South, Jessica Aebly readied herself for a day of pre-holiday sales. She opened Monday and, although things won't really pick up until next week, she has already done some business.

"Sales aren't the best, but they're working," she said. "By the fourth, we'll be slammed. We'll have to open early because people will already be lining up outside."

Aebly, who first got into the business about four years ago, likened the experience to camping. Operators must remain on-site at all times, she said, and her family uses mattresses and pillows as makeshift beds at the stand.

Not even the heat keeps them down, Aebly said, explaining they use fans and keep hydrated.

"The hard part is running back and forth to town for water," she said.

It is illegal to possess or shoot off fireworks within Victoria city limits, said Tom Legler, the city's fire marshal. That includes sparklers.

The fire department will patrol on Wednesday, he said, and those found in violation must surrender their fireworks and face possible citations.

Legler said people may legally explode fireworks in the county, with the landowner's permission.

Attending the city's fireworks display is another option.

"We strongly recommend that people just go watch them somewhere," he said. "We would much rather see people go out and enjoy them that way."

As for Yeater and Conboy, the duo said they planned to celebrate with food, friends and, of course, their fireworks. It's tradition, they said, and has only gone awry a handful of times.

Twice, Yeater said, the field around the show caught fire, while last year's display nearly sent a motorcycle trailer up in flames. Forward thinking and fire extinguishers, however, saved them.

Potential blazes or not, he said nothing would keep him from his explosive hobby.

"I'm a guy," he said with a grin. "I like things that go boom. The bigger they are, the louder the noise, the better."

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