LUBBOCK (AP) – Burn bans remained in place Friday for 116 Texas counties, down from a record 251 in late August.

Texas has been struggling with drought for more than a year and is expected to get below-normal rainfall through at least June. But conditions have improved some. This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor Map showed less than 33 percent of the state in the worst stage of drought, down from a high of about 88 percent in October.

Recent rain across most of North Texas and East Texas allowed New Year’s revelers to buy and use fireworks. But Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Linda Moon cautioned that the lifting of burn bans doesn’t mean Texans can be cavalier with fireworks.

“The improvement is temporary since underlying drought effects still exist,” she said. She added that the forest service “always reminds people to use caution with any outdoor activity that can cause wildfires, and that includes the use of fireworks.”

There’ll be no fireworks in Jeff Davis County in far West Texas, where a massive wildfire destroyed more than three dozen homes in the spring and scorched more than 200,000 acres. A burn ban remains in place, and officials said most residents aren’t interested in fireworks anyway. Most of the county is up to 15 inches behind on rainfall.

“No one is asking about fireworks,” Jeff Davis County Judge George Grubb said. “They understand it. I haven’t heard anybody say that they wanted to” use them.

Wildfires have burned more than 6,230 square miles and destroyed more than 2,900 homes since November 2010. The worst outbreak of wildfires in state history resulted from the state’s worst single-year drought, triple digit heat and unusually windy conditions.

Officials in Ector County banned New Year’s weekend fireworks earlier this month but changed their minds earlier this week after about a half-inch of rain and 5 inches of snow fell during the past two weeks.

“The ground is wet, the vegetation is wet,” Ector County Judge Susan Redford said. “We could no longer claim there was an imminent threat to the community.”

The least dangerous fireworks — no bottle rockets — went on sale in the county at 7 a.m. Friday and can be sold through 7 a.m. Monday, she said.

The weekend sales won’t make up for an abysmal year for Texas fireworks vendors, who lost millions because of dry conditions, said Jan Johnson, vice president of TNT Fireworks.

“Although New Year’s sales, if they’re strong, will help to prevent a total disaster to the industry,” she said.

(Copyright 2011, The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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