Local officials are cautioning residents to put safety before fun as they go out to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend.
Whether they’re firing up the grill, hitting area lakes or partying with friends, for many North Texans, Memorial Day serves as the “unofficial start to summer” as much as it is the holiday meant for reflecting on the lives of those who served our country.
Here are some tips for enjoying the holiday safely.
Denton police will be beefing up patrols this weekend on major roads, and officers will be looking for drunken drivers during what law enforcement calls a “no refusal” weekend. Drivers who refuse a Breathalyzer will be subject to having their blood drawn immediately for testing, officials said.
Officer Shane Kizer, a spokesman for the Denton Police Department, urged drivers to take precautions before hitting the roadways.
“Make sure your vehicle has been serviced before a long trip and don’t drink and drive,” Kizer said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety began increasing troopers along the highway Friday and those increased efforts will go through Memorial Day, DPS spokesman Lonny Haschel said in an email Friday.
During the increased patrols, troopers will be looking for intoxicated drivers, speeders and seat belt and other traffic violators statewide.
During last year’s four-day Memorial Day weekend, troopers arrested 460 drunken drivers, issued 5,036 speeding citations and more than 800 seat belt and child safety restraint tickets, and cited 698 drivers for driving without insurance, Haschel said.
“The DPS encourages motorists to slow down — especially in bad weather, construction areas, heavy traffic and unfamiliar areas,” he said. “Eliminate distractions while driving, including the use of mobile devices ... and don’t drive fatigued.”
Fire safety and weekend cautions
Safety rules also apply to the barbecues and fireworks that are popular on Memorial Day.
Charles Goodman, battalion chief with the Denton Fire Department, urges residents to keep common-sense rules while having fun during the holidays.
It’s important to make sure someone has an eye on the grill at all times, Goodman said.
“Especially watch small children around any open flame,” he said.
“Don’t leave any fire unattended.”
The county is not currently under a burn ban, but the appropriate caution should be observed for any fires — including camp or bonfires — as they can spread quickly and cause damage and injury, officials said.
Goodman said that the longstanding fireworks ban within the city remains in effect.
“You can’t shoot fireworks within 5,000 feet of the city limits,” he said.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a wet weekend and Goodman said recent reports show lightning will be the most severe threat for the area today and Sunday. He encourages residents to go inside when lightning is seen.
The biggest threat is for possible flash flooding Monday night into Tuesday in North Texas, meaning everyone should take extra caution when heading home on Memorial Day, officials said.
“Keep safe and have a happy and enjoyable holiday,” Goodman said.
The Denton County Sheriff’s Office will be joining the Texas Department of Public Safety, Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers once again this year in Operation Safe Lake, according to Sandi Brackeen, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
The program is to ensure safety on all area lakes, including Lewisville Lake and Ray Roberts Lake, and will include random boat safety checks. Anyone believed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol may also be stopped, officials said.
Brackeen said the program will also be enforced during the July Fourth weekend and Labor Day, when area lakes are most crowded.
Sheriff William Travis has said the program was so successful last year that he wants to make sure Operation Safe Lake is an ongoing partnership with local agencies.
Mark Richards, Lewisville Fire Department division chief, said that anyone near a body of water should be cautious.
“Don’t get into water without a life jacket on,” he said Friday. “If you are going to get in — boat, wade, anything that has to do with water — make sure you have a flotation device.”
Denton County had 13 drowning-related deaths for 2013, said Troy Taylor, chief death investigator for Denton County. Nine of those drownings were in a lake, two in a river and two in public pools, he said.
Staying hydrated is also key, Richards said.
“When you start to get a cramp in your leg, you panic and that’s when drownings can happen,” he said. “You will go down quick.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.