Fire danger continues high
by MAC OVERTON and PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Mar 31, 2011 | 906 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
More than 520,000 acres of Texas land have been burned so far this year by wildfires, many of which started when an outdoor burn got out of control, the Texas Forest Service reported Monday.

The Texas Forest Service reports that so far in March alone, they had battled 10 fires in Upshur County, helping local volunteer departments.

Gilmer fire fighter Tyler Buller said that the department had answered several calls so far in March.

Scanner traffic reports almost daily on rural grass and woods fires, which are battled by local volunteer fire fighters.

The extended drought and high winds are blamed for part of the problem, with outdoor burning getting out of control.

Such was the case last Thursday when a spark carried on the wind from a trash fire landed in the boards at a home on Hwy. 155 northeast of Barnwell Mountain.

Upshur County is not currently under a barn ban.

However, following a countywide spurt of grass fires last weekend, Upshur County Fire Marshal Paul Steelman asked residents Tuesday to avoid all unnecessary outdoor burning “until we get some significant rainfall.”

Steelman told The Mirror he was unaware of any major blazes, although one consumed perhaps 15 acres or so, but that the fires are resulting from a “combination of a lack of rain and people not paying attention to what they’re doing.”

“We’ve got extremely dry conditions,” Steelman warned. Until the last few days, he said, relative humidity was in the 30 and 40 percentile range, which is “really dry, so it takes very little to get a fire going” since vegetation is so dry.

Anyone who believes he/she must do outdoor burning should have a water source available and clean the ground “around the area they’re going to burn at least 20 or 25 feet” to prevent embers from going into grass and spreading the fire, Steelman said.

Residents who plan to burn leaves should make doubly sure the wind is not up, he said. In fact, persons should “pay extreme attention to the wind before considering any type of outdoor burning anytime,” Steelman warned.

The fire marshal said his suggestion to avoid unneeded outdoor burning was “not a burning ban.” But, he said, if the county doesn’t receive significant rainfall in the next two weeks, he will confer with the Texas Forest Service and present a recommendation to county commissioners on such a ban.

Steelman also warned that when someone starts a fire on his/her own property and it “crosses over property lines, a person can be held responsible for that and receive a citation.”

The Texas Forest Service also advises that a burn ban does not have to be in place for outdoor burning to be illegal. Negligently allowing a fire to escape onto someone else’s property is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Regional Urban Wildland Interface Coordinator Karen Stafford of College Station said it’s important for residents to use caution when doing anything outdoors that could cause a spark.

“The majority of the fires we see start from careless debris burning and unsafe burn barrels,” Ms. Stafford said. “Everyone needs to exercise extreme caution with all potential sources of wildfire ignition. If we all work together, senseless and potentially deadly wildfires can be avoided.”

The TFS gives these tips to consider when burning outdoors, including:

Check for—and comply with—bans on outdoor burning.

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 forecast.

Before burning, establish wide control lines around burn barrels—down to bare mineral soil and at least five feet wide.

Control lines should be even wider around brush and debris piles to be burned.

The larger the pile, the wider the control line needed to ensure embers won’t spread and catch surrounding vegetation on fire.

Stay with all outdoor fires until they are completely out.

Keep water and hand tools ready in case your fire begins to spread.

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, as heated cans will explode. Flying metal may cause injuries and the explosion may scatter burning material into nearby vegetation, resulting in wildfire.

Stay abreast of wildfire danger levels and heed warnings and bans on outdoor burning.

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