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2012-08-30

Commishes nix burn ban, Keese & Bregel finally agree

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Although Bandera County Commissioners declined to enact a countywide burn ban during a meeting on Thursday, August 23, the ban may prove unnecessary after all. Two warhorses that have perpetually butted heads over various issues through the years finally agreed on something. It appears hell is about to freeze over in the Texas Hill Country at last.

Making his argument for imposing a burn ban, Fire Marshal John Stith noted that Bexar, Gillespie, Kendall and Kerr counties already have burn bans. A KBDI (Keetch-Byram Drought Index) of over 575 is, according to Stith, the "golden number." The KDBI's 14-day predictive average for this area is 635, he added, with a high of 754 and a low of 494.

"I discussed this with fire chiefs across the county and they said they have seen more fires," Stith said. "The regional fire coordinator in Gillespie County has also seen an increase in fires in this area."

Stith told the court that while driving throughout the county, he had observed significant dead vegetation, an excellent source of fuel for wildfires. "We had a two- to three-inch rain last weekend, but not in all parts of the county," he said. "The numbers show we're reaching a critical situation."

If commissioners chose to impose a burn ban, he recommended making an exception for campfires at local dude ranches and for firefighter training.

However, a burn ban, which prohibits open fires, would also impose certain conditions on welding operations, such as requiring a spotter, prohibiting welding when winds exceed 20 miles per hours and on "red flag" days and having a water source readily available during welding operations.

County Judge Richard Evans observed, "There have been no fires in this area in the last month that were not caused by lightning strikes." Stith concurred with his statement.

The judge was also concerned about instigating a burn ban that would interfere with livelihoods.

Noting, "We're in a critical stage and it's going to get worse before it gets better," Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris made a motion to impose a countywide burn ban. However, the motion died for lack of a second.

Perennial court watcher Tom Bregel, a resident of Precinct 1, offered his opinion. "I burn everyday, but I never let my brush piles get over five feet in diameter. I listen to Rush and sit there with my water hose. People who burn have to be responsible. If the wind comes up, don't burn."

Bregel asked the court not to penalize everyone in the county because of a few reckless people. "We need to be responsible. You should leave this up to individuals and commonsense," he said.

"I've been on the court for 12 years and I finally agree with you on something," Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese told Bregel. Keese added, "It doesn't matter if there is a burn ban on. If someone's burning and the fire gets out of control and harms a neighbor's property, the person who's burning is liable, according to state statutes."

After commenting, "You can't legislate responsibility," Evans said he has authority to impose an emergency declaration if conditions throughout the county continued to deteriorate. The motion not to impose a burn ban was approved by a vote of 3-1 with Harris casting the "nay" vote.