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2011-03-03

Burn ban rules key to fire safety

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff writer

Bandera County Fire Marshall John Stith wants to keep everyone living in Bandera County to be safe from fire. Due to seriously dry conditions, the county has been under a burn ban almost continuously since November of last year.
According to the Texas Forest Service and AgriLife Research at Texas A&M, the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) average for Bandera County stood at 641-700 on Monday, Feb. 28.
The KBDI is an index used to determining forest fire potential. The drought index is based on a daily water balance, where a drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture and is expressed in hundredths of an inch of soil moisture depletion.
The drought index ranges from 0 to 800, where a drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion, and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions.
Personnel with the Texas Forest Service have determined the current dangerous conditions across the southwestern part of the state are a result of the re-appearance of La Niña. Historically, this particular weather pattern leads to warmer and dryer weather through the fall and winter with potentially higher winds from the northwest. These conditions have led authorities across the state to express concern about the potential severity of conditions for forest, pasture and brush fires during the remainder of this winter.
This area's current fuel load - in the form of dead grasses and low shrubs - could spell trouble for the county, Stith advised.
When a burn ban is in effect, burning of household trash and debris must be done in specially designed burn barrels covered with fine mesh screens.
Campers cannot build fires in their campsites. Open burning is also prohibited. "The purpose of the burn ban is to protect people and property," Stith said.
The following are FAQs received by Stith from residents:
Q How long does the burn ban last?
A The Bandera County Commissioners Court, after acting on recommendations from the fire marshal, can enact a burn ban for up to 90 days.
Q What conditions are needed to lift or suspend the burn ban?
A The fire marshal monitors weather conditions and receives feedback from the county fire chiefs. With this information and when there is an outlook for extended rain or wet conditions - typically three or more days - the fire marshal will notify commissioners court and a decision is made.
Q I know the burn ban is still on, but it's raining. Can I burn?
A Burning during a burn ban is against the law regardless of weather conditions. Often the conditions that make up a good day to burn are not expected to last and piles of ashes that include burning embers often last for many days. The vegetation dries up and can cause a substantial fire hazard.
Q What is the fine for burning during a burn ban?
A The fine for a first offense is up to $500.
Q I see some ranchers burning during a burn ban. Why are they allowed?
A During a burn ban, some burning is allowed for certain reasons, such as "prescribed burns." Prescribed burns are highly regulated by state laws and those doing the burning must be certified by the state.
Q Can I burn in a burn barrel during a burn ban?
A Yes, as long as the barrel is covered with a fine mesh screen that does not have openings larger than one-half inch.
Q Who do I contact to find out if a burn ban is in effect?
A Contact the Bandera County Sheriff's Office at 830-796-3771 for burn ban information.
Q Can I get a permit that will allow me to burn?
A Bandera County does not have a permit process to allow exceptions to the burn ban.
For more information about permissible outdoor fires during a burn ban, contact Stith's office at 830-460-8183.

Pictured: This map indicates Bandera County lies in the 600-700 KBDI range. Along with the rest of southwest Texas, the county's fire danger is seriously high.