The county’s burn ban, which was set to expire on Sunday, has been extended for another 90 days to try to prevent more wildfires.
Despite recent rains of several inches in places, there still is so much dry fuel around the county and expected dry and windy conditions that extreme fire hazards still exist, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Marshal Dwayne Griffin told commissioners.
Griffin gave commissioners a memo from Kent Prochazka, a National Weather Service meteorologist, on the current drought conditions for Somervell County.
“The outlook only goes through July and (I) am not nearly as confident in expected conditions beyond that time frame,” he said. “Unusually strong high pressure over Mexico and Texas has been aggravating the drought the last few months and in general that pattern will continue.
“The thunderstorms along the tail end of the cold front could reach the Somervell County region over the next few weeks, but the prevailing conditions of much above normal temperatures and stronger winds will hamper any improvement from rainfall,” he added.
Bosque County commissioners also reinstated that county’s burn ban at their meeting on Monday but are lifting it on some weekends.
“I have to disagree with the way they do this,” Griffin said. “Once you get that (a burn ban) in effect, it’s hard for me as fire marshal to go out and tell someone that I’m going to write them a ticket because yesterday the ban was not in effect but today it is. It makes it hard to enforce.”
County Judge Mike Ford said he also favored reinstating the burn ban.
“My concern is once we light this county up, there’s going to be 1,000 piles going up,” he said. “We don’t want it to be another PK (Possum Kingdom). I drove around the county roads and the grass is still dry” and dead trees and limbs are all over the county.
Last week the federal government denied the state's request for a federal Major Disaster Declaration in the wake of wildfires in Somervell, Bosque, Palo Pinto and other counties that scorched more than 2.2 million acres.
The Texas Forest Service estimated that since the wildfire season began in November 2010, Texas has responded to more than 9,000 fires across the state. More than 400 homes have been destroyed, although Somervell County was spared thanks to the quick response of firefighters and other first responders.
"I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much-needed assistance they deserve,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a prepared statement. “It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency.”
Perry added that the state’s resources are being stretched thin to fight the wildfires.
"Our state has become a model for the nation in disaster preparedness and response, but Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies,” Perry said.
The state will consider appealing the denial, he added.
A major disaster declaration would have made the state eligible for response and recovery assistance from the federal government.
Griffin said he is in the midst of totaling the county’s cost of fighting the wildfires in March, including a massive one that began in Bosque County, jumped the county line scorched a total of more than 6,200 acres in both counties.
He added that he’s applying to the state to see if the state can reimburse the county for its cost through the Texas Department of Emergency Management. But if it’s not receiving federal funding, the state, which is struggling with its own multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, may not be able to help.
Perry issued an Emergency Disaster Proclamation on Dec. 21, 2010. It was renewed on Jan. 19, February 17, March 18 and April 15. The proclamation remains in effect as extreme wildfire conditions persist.The State Operations Center has been partially activated and continues to work closely with the Texas Forest Service, National Weather Service and other state and local entities to monitor this severe wildfire threat.
Burn bans currently are active in 210 counties, according to the Texas Forest Service.