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A burn ban became effective in Burnet County at noon Tuesday, Jan. 25, about a half-hour after county commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of it. Voting against the ban were County Judge James Oakley and Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall. 

“I just don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Oakley said when asked about the no vote. “The problem is telling someone they can’t burn a real small fire in their backyard — one rule applies to all sizes. And there’s a prediction of more precipitation later in the week.” 

When asked, Wall said that if conditions were to grow worse that the county judge has the authority to institute a ban at any time. 

Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery made the motion to institute the ban. 

“We are in a severe drought in Burnet County right now,” he said. “And the LCRA had a two-day prescribed burn in my precinct last week, but canceled the second day because of the conditions. Even prescribed burn managers are not doing it.” 

Commissioners voting for the burn ban pointed to a prescribed burn that got out of hand in Bastrop last week. Known as the Rolling Pines Fire, it began in Bastrop State Park, eventually burning 812 acres and forcing 250 families to evacuate their homes. The Bastrop County judge has called for a full investigation into what happened. 

Burnet County Development Services Director Herb Darling pointed out that all neighboring counties except Bell have burn bans in place, which is not unusual at this time of year. Also, the weeklong winter storm last February killed a lot of trees that could become fuel during an out-of-control fire, he added. 

“All our small fuels are dried out by frosts and freezes,” he said. “But it’s not that bad yet. I have seen large fuels that are not burning because they still have enough moisture.” 

Bottom line is to “call before you burn,” Darling continued, and watch the weather forecast. 

Anyone about to light a controlled burn should call the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at 512-756-8080 to learn the status of burn bans and whether it is a red flag day. No burns are allowed on red flag days. Those conducting outdoor burns must also follow the guidelines, which can be found online. Those guidelines include calling the sheriff’s office before a burn. 

“I can’t stress enough that people need to call in to the sheriff’s office and tell them they want to light a fire,” Oakley said. “I try not to take away private property rights, but what changes that is if it affects somebody else. A fire that gets out of control obviously is going to affect your neighbors.” 

According to the NOAA, December 2021 was the driest month in Texas in 127 years, while 2021 was the wettest year to date during that same time period. Currently, 14.5 million people in Texas are affected by drought, while 157 counties have USDA disaster designations. Neither Llano nor Burnet counties are on that list.

editor@thepicayune.com