Recent rains not enough to offset ban on outdoor fires
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 1, 2006 -- For those who think recent rains were enough to negate the months-long burn ban, think again.

“The burn ban is still in effect even though we had two to three spurts of rain,” said Hopkins County Fire Investigator Steve Caudle, who also serves as the county’s fire prevention specialist. “It did not improve the drought conditions the county is under.”

While Sulphur Springs received 0.90 of an inch of rain in August, some parts of the county received less than that. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect wasn’t enough to bring the county’s ranking on the Keetch Byram Drought Index out of the most severe drought category. KBDI rankings range from 0 to 800, with 800 representing the maximum drought conditions possible.

Hopkins and nearby Delta, Franklin, Titus and Hunt are among 10 counties in Northeast Texas with drought conditions in the most severe KBDI rankings. The lowest KBDI ranking in Hopkins County is currently 604, while the highest is 781, for an average of 725 overall. Hunt is currently averaged at 704 on KBDI, Franklin at 760 and Delta 712.

“Even though we had a small amount of rain, it really didn’t do anything as far as the vegetation goes. The dry ground soaked it all up,” Caudle said. “That’s the whole problem. It’s so dry, and the little bit of rain didn’t put a dent as far as the danger and conditions.”

The 14-day outlook shows drought conditions worsening, with dozens of other counties expected to be in as dire a shape as Hopkins and the nine other Northeast Texas counties, according to KBDI predictions

Despite the continued danger, firefighters have responded to an average of at least one burn ban violation each day since the rains. On Thursday alone they issued two warnings for brush burning.

Those caught violating the burn ban -- especially repeat offenders -- could find themselves facing stiff fines. If an outdoor fire gets out of control and spreads to other people’s property, the responsible party might also find themselves liable for damages.

That’s why county firefighters and other officials are reminding those who do burn within the restrictions of the ban to use extreme caution.

The only outdoor burning allowed is of household trash in a covered container, such as a barrel with a screen, and barbecue grills with covers. The only exceptions to the ban on outdoor burning are highway crews burning off rights-of-way such as those doing work on FM 1870 and the interstate and state highways; and burning to clear a construction sight, provided a deep pit is dug and the items are burned in it, and the area around it is free of vegetation or other items which would quickly catch fire from sparks and spread.

Even then, certain precautions should be taken, such as having a sufficient and readily available water supply to douse any errant flames. Also, all allowable burns should be attended, and not undertaken near structures such houses, barns or buildings, and within a reasonable distance of vegetation. 

While welding is not prohibited, those who do weld are reminded to take as many safety precautions as possible to prevent an unintentional fire.

More information about the burn ban is available on the Internet at http://www.hopkinscountytx.org

More information about the KBDI or fire danger can be found at the Texas Interagency Coordination Center’s web page, http://www.tamu.edu/ticc/predictive_services/intro.htm

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