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2014-05-15

Off, on & off, for now, burn ban

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

No one was surprised when Bandera County Commissioners Court imposed a countywide burn ban during a regular meeting on Thursday, May 8. The surprise was that the ban hadn't already been in effect.
However, after a couple of days of precipitation, the recent burn ban was temporarily suspended, enabling county residents to engage in outdoor burning with impunity.
As County Judge Richard Evans noted, "The best way to get rain is to impose a burn ban."
A rainstorm swept through the county the next day, and on Monday, May 12, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a weather alert for flash floods in Bandera County.
The alert correctly predicted storms throughout the night across the area. "While massive rainfall amounts and devastating floods are not expected ... there is still a significant threat for driving into flood waters at low water crossings in the Hill County," the alert cautioned. The alert remained in effect from Monday evening through Tuesday morning with intermittent rain occurring Tuesday, May 13.
Last week, after consulting with fire chiefs throughout the county, Fire Marshal John Stith recommended the court enact the ban. "The chiefs are all in favor of it and county residents have also voiced their concerns," he said. "Most counties around Bandera already have burn bans in place and have had for sometime."
Referencing the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, Stith said that recently Bandera has had a low of 638 and a high of 713. An outlook projected a high KBDI of 733.
Used to determine wildfire potential throughout the State of Texas, the KBDI index ranges from 0, which indicates no drought, to 800, which connotes extreme drought. The KDBI is based on a daily water balance of precipitation and soil moisture.
During a later interview, Stith said the average KBDI on May 15 was 515 with a maximum of 617 and a low of 323. "The average has dropped over 100 points since last Thursday," he said. "However, people shouldn't get too excited because the 14-day outlook shows a low of 588 and a high of 664."
Despite a continued severe drought, Bandera County has been extremely fortunate with regard to wildfires, Stith said. "So far, everyone has been exceptionally compliant. We've had a few fires but they haven't gotten away from us."
One problem occurred when flames from a 10-foot deep pit jumped the road. "The guy did everything right and he still had a problem," Stith said, adding that the fire was quickly extinguished.
"People have become more responsible," Evans said.
Concurring, Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King praised a more educated public. "Before burning, people are checking to see what the conditions are," he said. "The sheriff's office advises people whether to burn or not."
Although Stith noted it is not mandatory that residents call the Bandera County Sheriff's Office prior to burning, he recommended it. "If residents are in doubt as to whether a burn ban is in effect, the sheriff's office can advise them."
When in effect, a countywide burn ban prohibits all outdoor burning except when conducted in specially designed barrels covered with fine mesh screens. Burn barrels are commonly used to dispose of household trash and debris. During a burn ban, open burning of trash and brush is prohibited.
In addition, under a burn ban, welding is still permissible, but Stith urged anyone welding or otherwise working with torches to use a spotter and keep a fire extinguisher or water source close. Historically, welders have also been asked to refrain from plying their trade on days when winds exceed 20 miles per hours and on "red flag" days.
Despite the recent rainy weather, Stith predicted the burn ban would be back on shortly. "It's going to dry out again quickly," he said. "By lifting it when we can, we help residents as much as we can without putting the county in danger."
And, as Evans noted, "A couple of days of good rain is not going to break the drought or fill Medina Lake."
To determine whether a burn ban is on or off, county residents are asked to call the Bandera County Sheriff's Office at 830-796-3771.
For more information about protecting themselves, their families and their property, residents are urged to visit http://firewise.org/ and www.wildlandfirersg.org.