Somervell County Commissioner's Court enacts burn ban

Travis M. Smith -- @travis5mith
Fire surrounded this home during the over-10-mile long fire storm in 2011.

GLEN ROSE -- The Somervell County Commissioner's Court voted unanimously to approve a county wide ban on burning on Monday morning. Somervell County Fire Marshal Dwayne Griffin listed several reasons for the court to enact the ban, including the county's sudden rise in the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KDBI), and the National Weather Service’s 14-day forecast for the area.

The ban – which is effective immediately – will be in place for 90 days, “or until the judge deems it not necessary," Griffin said, and it will take more than an inch of rain to end the current drought. The amount of rainfall will need to be significant enough for the ground to become saturated - not just coat the surface, he added. 

Individuals can still burn under certain circumstances, as outlined by Chapter 352, Section 352.081 of the of the Texas Local Government Code, but Griffin made it clear that under no circumstances can an individual burn trash.

The KDBI for Somervell County is currently in the 619-point range, according to Griffin, and it is very common for a burn ban to be put in place after exceeding an index score of 575.

The Texas Weather Connection on Texas A&M's website describes the scale as “an index used to determine forest fire potential. The drought index is based on a daily water balance, where a drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture (assumed to have a maximum storage capacity of 8-inches) and is expressed in hundredths of an inch of soil moisture depletion. The drought index ranges from 0 to 800, where a drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion, and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions.”

Somervell County firefighters have already begun the fight to control the spread of grass fires, and according to Somervell County Fire Chief Mark Crawford, have gone from zero grass fires to nearly a dozen in a week's time. 

"2011 was our last major grassfire season," Crawford said, "which is good, however, we have a lot of new firefighters who do not have wildland fire experience. We have been bringing in training experts to certify those guys in wildland fires for a while now though."

Regardless of certifications, Crawford institutes a three-prong approach to battling any blaze, and the approach begins before the firefighters ever leave the station. 

"Tactically, our first priority is life safety, and that starts when the call for action first comes in," he explained. "We make sure our guys who are responding to the emergency call get on the proper protective equipment, and start to hydrate. The second priority is to stabilize the incident, and third is saving property."

On March 16, 2011, the Somervell County Fire Department applied the three-prong approach to near perfection. Utilizing its eight brush trucks, two tender engines, and the majority of its nine-paid-and-40-volunteer staff, Crawford and his crew were able to stop an almost 11-mile long wildland fire just as it crossed the Somervell County line. The fire covered just over 4,300 acres after it started in Bosque County, and thanks to their efforts, no homes were lost. 

Section 352.081 of the Texas Local Government Code is printed below in its entirety:


Sec. 352.081. REGULATION OF OUTDOOR BURNING. (a) In this section, "drought conditions" means the existence of a long-term deficit of moisture creating atypically severe conditions with increased wildfire occurrence as defined by the Texas Forest Service through the use of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index or, when that index is not available, through the use of a comparable measurement that takes into consideration the burning index, spread component, or ignition component for the particular area.

(b) On the request of the commissioner’s court of a county, the Texas Forest Service shall determine whether drought conditions exist in all or part of the county. The Texas Forest Service shall make available the measurement index guidelines that determine whether a particular area is in drought condition. Following a determination that drought conditions exist, the Texas Forest Service shall notify the county when drought conditions no longer exist. The Texas Forest Service may accept donations of equipment or funds as necessary to aid the Texas Forest Service in carrying out this section.

(c) The commissioners court of a county by order may prohibit or restrict outdoor burning in general or outdoor burning of a particular substance in all or part of the unincorporated area of the county if:

(1) drought conditions have been determined to exist as provided by Subsection (b); or (2) the commissioners court makes a finding that circumstances present in all or part of the unincorporated area create a public safety hazard that would be exacerbated by outdoor burning.

(d) An order adopted under this section must specify the period during which outdoor burning is prohibited or restricted. The period may not extend beyond the 90th day after the date the order is adopted. A commissioner’s court may adopt an order under this section that takes effect on the expiration of a previous order adopted under this section.

(e) An order adopted under this section expires, as applicable, on the date:

(1) a determination is made under Subsection (b) that drought conditions no longer exist; or

(2) a determination is made by the commissioners court that the circumstances identified under Subsection (c)(2) no longer exist.

(f) This section does not apply to outdoor burning activities:

(1) related to public health and safety that are authorized by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for:

(A) firefighter training;

(B) public utility, natural gas pipeline, or mining operations; or

(C) planting or harvesting of agriculture crops; or

(2) that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager certified under Section 153.048, Natural Resources Code, and meet the standards of Section 153.047, Natural Resources Code.

(g) Any person is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent the violation or threatened violation of a prohibition or restriction established by an order adopted under this section.

(h) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly or intentionally violates a prohibition or restriction established by an order adopted under this section. An offense under this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor.