Because Somervell County’s burn ban was lifted on Nov. 8, we can just ignore fire safety guidelines, right? Absolutely wrong.
Fire marshal Mark Crawford noted that two controlled burns on opposite sides of the county got out of control just last week.
Crawford, who is also the fire chief of the Somervell County Fire Department, warns that various factors such as wind and humidity can turn a necessary task into a highly risky endeavor.
“Wind conditions can change and catch you off guard,” Crawford said. “The fire department knows all too well how fast a fire can get away from someone and cause damage to their own neighboring property.”
Crawford recalled bad fire seasons in 2007 and 2011 as examples of the damage — and even dreaded home evacuations — that can result from blazes that get out of control.
“The last big fire burned over 4,500 acres,” said Crawford, who recently was named fire marshal when Dwayne Griffin became the chief deputy for the county’s new Sheriff Alan West. “We had to have the state come in with airplanes and helicopters for assistance. We utilized city and county bulldozers to finally stop the fire as it was entering our county from Bosque County.
“We ended up evacuating ‘The Oaks’ neighborhood when spot fires were starting from landing embers. After the fire, the State Forestry Service gave a full report to our Commissioners Court and stated that this fire was the largest one in the state that did not burn down a house that year. We were very proud as a fire department for the work we did.”
Key tips offered by the National Fire Prevention Association for fire safety around the home include: a home grill placed too close to anything that can burn is a fire hazard; clear away leaves from gutters, eaves, porches and decks; remove dead vegetation and other items from under your deck or porch, within 10 feet of the house; wildfires can spread to trees, so prune them so that the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
Crawford said he has a farm, so he understands the need for outdoor burning — but everyone still must follow the laws.
He stated that he has “the obligation to protect the environment, promote public health and safety, and avoid nuisance conditions through the sensible regulation of outdoor burning.”
Penalties for illegal outdoor burning by an individual in violation of the Texas Clean Air Act can be severe, especially when it comes to air contaminants from such acts as burning tires. A felony incidence of “intentional” or “knowing” endangerment with air contaminants from an outdoor fire by an individual can carry a fine of up to $500,000 (and/or five years confinement). A “special misdemeanor” fine could range as high as $50,000 (and/or six months confinement) for an individual.
Crawford said Somervell County firefighters are certified to National Forestry Firefighting standards.
“This is above and beyond what most fire departments train to, but we do it because we are right on the edge of Hill Country and want to be prepared for the worst. Our department belongs to TIFMAS (Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System). We are certified to deploy anywhere in the state on large incidents and in return can call in likewise resources into our county if necessary.”
Crawford wants the public to know the rules and guidelines for legal outdoor burning to ensure everyone’s safety. Here are the laws pertaining to outdoor burning in Texas, as established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ):
Rules For Outdoor Burning
No burning inside city limits
No burning within 300 feet downwind of a neighboring structure.
Wind must be between 6 mph and 23 mph.
Burning must be no earlier than one hour after sunrise, or one hour before sunset.
Burning can only be of natural materials grown on your property.
No trash burning of any sort.
Must notify Sheriff’s Office of your intent to burn.
Burning cannot create a traffic hazard or a nuisance to anyone.
Note: See Texas Commission on Environmental Quality RG 049, Page 11.