Temporary burn ban could be implemented this week

County on red alert due to 7 grass fires daily since Sunday

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Jan 2, 2008 - Hopkins County is placed under a red alert for wildfire danger, with residents asked to refrain from burning when possible, and to exhibit extreme caution when unavoidable to reduce the number of grass fires.

�We�re warning people not to burn if possible, but if conditions don�t improve, if we have no significant amount of moisture soon, we could implement a burn ban,� Millsap said late Wednesday morning. �We�ve had too many calls, especially on New Year�s Eve and New Year�s Day."

The judge said he’s already talked to the county fire chief and will be speaking with the four county commissioners later today, and that the increased number of grass fires and possible need for a burn ban likely will be a subject discussed during Thursday morning’s commissioners court work session.

County and volunteer firefighters have responded to a large number of grass fires in recent days, blazes that spread quickly due to biting winds and have consumed at least 150 acres, including 40 acres at one location over the weekend and 100 acres Tuesday.

Firefighters have battled seven grass fires daily since Sunday, with only fires on FM 275 south and State Highway 11 east so far reported to have been caused by fireworks.

Some fires burned or threatened standing buildings, including houses.

One grass fire spread to an old building, burning it down. Residents along County Road 1179 were asked by deputies to temporarily evacuate as a precaution when a large grass fire just off State Highway 19 south in Arbala began quickly spreading toward the homes. In addition to four fire departments, Texas Forest Service was called in to assist with the blaze, which was eventually stopped before it destroyed any residences, according to reports.

The grass fires aren’t surprising, as the National Weather Service Monday issued a hazardous weather outlook for North Texas, including Hopkins County, due to gusty north winds and dry air.

Hopkins County Fire Chief Carl Nix asked that people take extreme caution when burning, citing extremely dry vegetation due to recent below-freezing temperatures. He also reminds those who plan to burn to monitor fires at all times, and take the wind and proximity to dead or dry vegetation into account. Also, don’t burn near structures to reduce risk of building catching on fire.

�If you�re out burning and it gets out of control, please call and get a fire department coming," Nix stated. "We want to get there as quickly as possible and get it out. However, because of the size and number of calls, one agency may be somewhere else, and another have to dispatched. For instance, if Brinker is assisting in Dike, and a fire is called in in Brinker, another agency may have to be called in to cover."

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap Wednesday morning said the county is officially on “red alert” status, and is “warning people not to burn if they can possibly help it.

"If they do burn, please keep it in a receptacle, a burn barrel or something covered," Millsap said.

He asked that any burning done outdoors be conducted in a “safe manner, even if you’re cooking outdoors, such as in a barbecue pit.” He cited one grass fire Tuesday on SH 19, which burned 100 acres and 31 rolls of hay. The fire started as a controlled burn which quickly got away from the property owner who had stepped away from it for just a moment.

In addition to the 14 grass fires since Monday, firefighters also battled two structure fires and a tree fire, among other calls.

Last night, Hopkins County, Saltillo, Dike and Pickton-Pine Forest firefighters responded to a structure fire on County Road 3532, which had apparently already been active for some time, as it had burned to the ground when firefighters arrived. Fire investigators said determining the point of initiation and exact cause of the blaze will be very difficult due to the extent of damage. However, as the structure was all electric, and the resident left three heat sources on, the fire likely was electrical in nature. The resident was across a field at a relative’s home when the fire occurred, and thus was uninjured,.

The other structure fire was at an abandoned trailer house, which was also destroyed.

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