Wildfires increase, threaten life and property
By LPR Staff
While the industry standard calls the danger “moderate,” practical experience says something different.
The Keetch Byram Drought Index, a data compilation provided by the Texas A&M University Forest Service, holds Caldwell County at a “moderate” rating, meaning that wildfire activity co
uld begin to intensify; boots on the ground suggest the activity has already intensified and will only get worse.
“With tinder-dry conditions we are experiencing at this time, it’s important to remember that anything that creates a spark or open flame must be used with extreme caution,” said Lockhart Fire Department’s Interim Chief Jerry Doyle, himself an experienced firefighter with more than 40 years experience in Caldwell County’s paid and volunteer departments. “Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
In the last seven days alone, paid and volunteer departments throughout the county responded to at least three major wildland fires, along with two structure fires and several other minor calls.
“Dozens of firefighters have fought wildfires in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees,” Caldwell County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey said.
Although an outdoor burning ban is in effect, residents of Caldwell County have been either ignoring the ban, or engaging in fire activities that could pose a serious danger to their neighbors and themselves.
“People are surprised to find out that once they light a fire they own it and whatever it destroys,” said Mark Padier, the Chief of Chisholm Trail Fire/Rescue. “They could be charged with arson once it crosses property lines. Burning is on the TCEQ website with all of the rules set forth by the state.”
Padier estimates his department alone, one of seven volunteer departments in the county, has responded to 10 calls in the last two weeks.
The situation will only deteriorate as summer heat continues to bear down on Central Texas; that danger will be increased significantly as the Fourth of July weekend approaches, and the sale and use of fireworks begins.
Violation of the burn ban in itself is a crime – a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $500, or more if the fire crosses property lines and destroys private property.
Additionally, the Office of Emergency Management reminds Caldwell County residents to be responsible with spark-generating activities such as welding and baling hay, and to properly dispose of cigarette butts.
Improperly stored chains, too, are problematic. Often, chains dragged from trucks or trailers on the road create sparks; those sparks can ignite fires that stretch, quite literally, for miles.
Other safety tips offered by Ritchey include:
-Do not park in tall grass; and
-Properly maintain pump jacks and other industrial equipment, and keep vegetation clear of all oil production facilities
Residents are reminded to use extreme caution, and to call 9-1-1 immediately to report smoke or fires.