The countywide burn ban is still on — for now.
Somervell County Commissioners on Monday unanimously decided not to lift the ban because dry, windy conditions persist. Some residents had contacted them about the ban after recent rains, but the moisture wasn’t enough to ease the drought.
At a special meeting last Thursday morning to consider lifting the ban, commissioners decided to take no action on the burn ban they recently extended for 90 days on May 15. They wanted to see whether it would rain enough this past weekend to consider lifting the ban on Monday when the commissioners met again in regular session.
Instead, the rain fell elsewhere. Somervell County barely got a sprinkle.
Indeed, since last Thursday, the county’s numbers have risen on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index that the Texas Forest Service uses to calculate dryness.
“In the short term, we don’t look too bad,” Mark Fox, National Weather Service warning and coordination meterologist for Region 6, said. But the long-range forecasts “do not look optimistic,” he added,” because of an outlook for below-normal precipitation through June, July and August.
Fire Marshal Dwayne Griffin on Thursday presented the latest data from the Texas Forest Service that indicated Somervell County is under "moderate" risk for fire and is barely above "extreme conditions" for fire under the drought index used by the forest service to determine wildfire potential.
"With that being said, this would be a good time to lift the fire ban," Griffin said.
On the other hand, Griffin said, there is still plenty of dry grass and limbs throughout the county.
"This is our worst fire season we've ever had in the state of Texas," Griffin told commissioners. He noted that since January about 2.4 million acres have burned and more than 1,100 homes lost — some of which he witnessed when he and Somervell County firefighters traveled to Palo Pinto County to help with the massive wildfires there.
"Personally, I have a ton of limbs that need to be burned," he said. "But why it is it so important to strike a match now during the worst fire season in the state?"
Greg Marsh, who lives out in the FM 56 area, spoke against lifting the ban.
"Living out there on a rock hill, I'm not in favor of it at all," he said. "Lots of grass is still dry and will burn big time."
Rob Robinson agreed, saying it was prudent to wait.
"Let's wait for another week at least and see how much rain we'll get," he said. "Yes, the grass is green, but it's still dry."
County Justice of the Peace Scott May was the only one at the Thursday meeting to speak in favor of lifting the ban.
"There are a lot of us that do use burning on our farms," May noted. "As a former fire marshal, I know the positive efforts of education. We need to educate our residents" on how how to burn properly and safety.
May said he would like to see the county adopt a permit program for burning so that if someone wanted to burn a pile, he or she could apply to the county. The fire marshal then could take a look at the area. He might decide the pile was too close to a cedar break, May noted.
"Unfortunately, some people don't have common sense" when it comes to burning, he added.
Griffin said that concerned him, too, as did the wind, which has been blowing very hard at times this spring.
"That's my biggest concern," he added. "The way things are, if the wind picks up and dries out the grass, it doesn't take much for an ember to start a wildfire."
County Judge Mike Ford agreed it would be better to take no action yet.
"We barely scraped by not long ago (with the March wildfires) and after watching what happened around PK (Possum Kingdom Lake), it's not worth the risk to houses" and other property and especially lives, he said.