OUR TURN: Refrain from setting unnecessary fires in order to prevent a disaster

Don’t relax your guard just yet about outdoor burning because of the recent rains, drizzle and humid mornings. The Highland Lakes are still parched by a drought that started two years ago this month, which means the region remains a tinderbox.

The fires that ravaged Bastrop and Spicewood, claiming lives and thousands of acres, only happened a year ago, and the conditions are ripe for another disaster of epic scale unless residents continue to exercise vigilance.

The Burnet County Commissioners Court approved lifting the burn ban Sept. 17 for the unincorporated areas of the county, but they did so while warning residents to refrain from setting any unnecessary fires.

At the time, more than 6 inches of rain had fallen on the county.

They issued the same warning Sept. 25 when renewing their decision to rescind the ban on outdoor burning. The ban had been in place for months.

Because of the drought, one of the worst in 500 years according to climatologists, the hills and dales of the Highland Lakes still have not absorbed enough moisture to make them less susceptible to conflagrations.

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index, a scale that measures a region’s susceptibility to fire based on dryness, remains high. The index ranges from 0-800 with 800 indicating the greatest potential for fire. Burnet County’s overall KBDI number was more than 500 just before the latest rains at the end of last month.

And in spite of the showers, the drought is still here. Lake inflows are reduced and the overall storage capacity of reservoirs Buchanan and Travis show they are less than half full.

Until more rain falls, there should be outdoor burning only when absolutely unnecessary.

And don’t forget to follow the rules, which can be found on the county’s website at www.burnetcountytexas.org/. They include:

n Call the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at (512) 756-8080 before starting any outdoor burns.

n No burning after dark. Start at least an hour after sunrise and no later than an hour before sunset.

n Have equipment and water on hand to control the spread of the fire. Keep a cell phone handy. Have someone stay with the fire. Clear a 6-foot area around the burn and conduct the burn at least 300 feet downwind from any structures unless you have written permission from the occupant.

n Burn only untreated wood, brush, trimmings and paper products. Make sure winds aren’t less than 6 mph or more than 23 mph.

Even when the burn ban has been lifted, there can still be problems. And when calamities occur, fire crews have to be dispatched, which costs time and money.

You can also call the Sheriff’s Office to learn if a burn ban is in effect. Violations can lead to fines and criminal charges.

Those who live in municipal areas should contact their respective city halls about a ban.

Don’t let the rains fool you; there haven’t been enough. If you’re going to burn outside, remember there is a lot more at stake than just getting rid of a brush pile.


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