Commissioners OK burn ban

Commissioners OK burn ban

24 November 2009

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USA– County commissioners approved a 90-day burn ban Monday in hopes of staving off the recent increase in grass and wild fires in and around the Howard County area, a measure that could carry heavy fines for violators, according to local fire officials.

The ban — which is identical to the burn ban that was issued in January and lapsed in April — is necessary, thanks to a drastic increase in the amount of dead grass and brush, according to Howard County Volunteer Fire Chief Tommy Sullivan.

“Since we had our first hard freeze of the season, all of the grass and brush that was green is now brown, so we’ve seen a huge increase in the fuel load out there,” said Sullivan. “And as the risk goes up, the need to hold people accountable for their actions goes up.

“People are still allowed to burn in burn barrels. They have to be barrels with no holes in them and they have to have a tight screen on them. They are also required to have a fire extinguisher or water hose, and they have to stay with the fire from the time it’s started until it’s completely out. If someone calls in and sees someone is burning, and a deputy or fire department shows up and no one is out there watching it, that’s a violation of the burn ban and they could be fined up to $500.”

Sullivan said the same rules apply to welders, and while a $500 fine is nothing to scoff at, violation of the ban can get much more expensive, especially if the fire spreads beyond their property.

“If the fire gets away from them and gets onto someone’s personal property, then they will not only get a fine for failure to adhere to a burn ban, they will also be fined for reckless endangerment, which makes that fine $1,000,” said Sullivan. “Like I’ve said, $5 to go to the landfill is a lot easier on the wallet than a $1,000 fine, not to mention a lawsuit if the fire damages someone else’s property.”

County Judge Mark Barr said there are exceptions to the ban, but area residents considering burning anything outdoors should make sure they have a good reason for doing so.

“This burn ban does not prohibit outdoor burning activities related to public safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, firefighter training, public utility, gas lines and pipelines or the planting or harvesting of agricultural crops,” said Barr. “Also, burns that are directed by prescribed burn managers are not prohibited by the burn ban. There are some exclusions from the ban. However, if you’re going to burn something, you better have a really good reason. And if anyone has any questions, they can call my office or call Tommy.”

Sullivan said the number of grass and wild fires reported in the county has already begun to climb, with no real end in sight.

“We have to deal with the fires caused by electrical lines and equipment out in the oilfield every year. We know this,” said Sullivan. “However, what makes it tough is when we have to fight the fires that could have been prevented if people had used some common sense. It’s one thing when you’re dealing with the inevitable, it’s another when it’s simple human error.”

Sullivan said the ban will last until the last part of February, when he and commissioners will reevaluate the situation.

“If there’s no need for the ban at that time we’ll simply let it lapse,” said Sullivan. “However, that’s highly unlikely during that time of the year. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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