Editor: Shannon Cottongame
March 16, 2022
Persistent dry conditions for the past several months have led to an increase in grass fires throughout Hill County and the area, prompting local firefighters to ask residents to refrain from outdoor burning until conditions improve.
According to reports from Hill County Emergency Services District 1, area fire departments were dispatched to a total of 56 grass fires last month, and in just the first three days of this month, Hill County departments had responded to 18 grass fires. The calls have continued on a regular basis since that time.
Hill County Judge Justin Lewis said during commissioners court Tuesday, March 8, that the court will need to consider a burn ban at its next meeting if the county does not receive rain. As of Tuesday, Hill County was not yet at the 575 number on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index that is required before the court can issue a non-disaster burn ban.
With no burn ban in place, many area residents have attempted to conduct controlled burns, but officials say the majority of the fires they have responded to have been the result of failed controlled burns.
In addition to the risk of loss of property and potential danger, the uptick in calls for service is placing a strain on resources. With most of the fire departments in the county operating on a volunteer basis, the volume of calls comes at a cost of lost wages to those volunteers.
Increased fuel costs are also putting a considerable dent in departments’ operating budgets. Peoria Volunteer Fire Department reported that its fuel costs tripled last month, causing the department to dip into funds that were needed in other areas.
People and their activities cause more than 90 percent of all wildfires in Texas. The largest number of human-caused wildfires is a result of careless debris burning. Other causes of wildfires include sparks from welding and grinding equipment, carelessly discarded smoking materials, vehicles’ exhaust systems and arson.
Note the following information from the Texas A&M Forest Service about preventing wildfires:
Compliance with burn bans reduces unsafe debris burning; but a burn ban does not have to be in effect for outdoor burning to be illegal.
Negligently allowing your fire to escape onto someone else’s property is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.
Tips to safer debris burning:
– Check for local bans on outdoor burning.
– Keep informed of wildfire danger levels.
– Avoid burning trash, leaves and brush on dry, windy days.
– Check to see if weather changes are expected. Postpone outdoor burning if shifts in wind direction, high winds or wind gusts are in the forecast.
– Before doing any burning, establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil at least five feet wide around any burn barrels and even wider around brush piles and other piled debris to be burned. The larger the debris pile, the wider the control line needed to ensure burning materials won’t be blown or roll off the pile into vegetation outside the line.
– Burn household trash only in a burn barrel or other trash container equipped with a screen or metal grid to keep burning material contained.
– Never attempt to burn aerosol cans; heated cans will explode. Flying material may cause injuries and the explosion may scatter burning material into nearby vegetation and cause a wildfire.
– Stay with outdoor fires until they are completely out.
– Keep water and hand tools ready in case your fire should attempt to spread.
– Keep mufflers and spark arresters on agricultural equipment in proper working order.
Watch for rocks and metal when bush hogging or mowing.
– Monitor hay baling operations closely; dry hay can ignite within the baler.
– Remove vegetation from the work area.
– Use a sprayer to wet down the work area prior to starting welding operations.
Keep water handy.
– Have someone with you to spot any fires that sparks ignite.
– Avoid parking vehicles in dry grass tall enough to touch the catalytic converter on the underside of your vehicle.
– If you’re towing a trailer, remember to do a maintenance check to ensure the tires are not worn, the bearings and axles are greased, and safety chains are properly in place and not dragging on the ground.
– Be sure that you do not cause sparks along the roadway with anything you discard from your vehicle or anything you transport while driving.
Remember to call your local fire department or sheriff’s office before beginning a controlled burn. This saves time and prevents confusion when smoke is reported in your area.
Whitney VFD can be reached at 254-694-2444 or 254-337-0194, and the Hill County Sheriff’s Office phone number is 254-582-5313.
Remember that burning is always prohibited within the city limits of Whitney, and never burn during a burn ban.