Howard County commissioners gave the go-ahead Monday morning to put a burn ban into effect, as local fire officials warn wildfire dangers are reaching critical levels with no immediate relief in sight.
Commissioners approved the county-wide ban — which will be in effect for 90 days, at the end of which the court will have the option to reinstate or dismiss the order — at the recommendation of Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tommy Sullivan.
According to Sullivan, the fire hazard in Howard County has reached extreme levels despite recent rains.
“The 100-plus degree heat takes an incredible toll, even when we've gotten a considerable amount of rain,” Sullivan said. “As of Monday morning, the fire danger index was just above the state's extreme level and with more 100-degree days in the forecast and no foreseeable break in the heat, it's likely it will only get worse.”
While the ban does allow for burning in certain circumstances, Sullivan said he'd much rather see county residents simply not take the chances it represents during what are sure to be dire times.
“I understand that some people have to burn for health and sanitation reasons,” he said. “However, if the fire gets away from you the fines can get pretty expensive. In the end, it's a lot cheaper just to pay a service to pick up your garbage than to get stuck with a $500 to $1,000 fine. And even the money can be small in comparison to the feeling you're left with if someone gets hurt or loses their home. It's just not worth it.”
Sullivan said county residents are allowed to burn in burn barrels, which have no holes in them and have a tight screen on the top.
“They are also required to have a fire extinguisher or water hose, and they have to stay with the fire from the time it's started until it's completely out,” Sullivan said. “If someone calls in and sees someone is burning, and a deputy or fire department shows up and no one is out there watching it, that's a violation of the burn ban and they could be fined up to $500.
“Just as important as how the burning is done is what is being burned. The ban only allows for items to be burned that will completely ash. In other words, no plastic milk jugs, polystyrene egg cartons or any other type of plastic. Again, burning these items is a violation of the burn ban.”
The same rules apply to welders, and while a $500 fine is nothing to scoff at, violation of the ban can get much more expensive, especially if the fire spreads beyond their property, he added.
“If the fire gets away from them they will not only get a fine for failure to adhere to a burn ban, they will also be fined for reckless endangerment, which makes that fine $1,000,” said Sullivan. “Like I've said, $5 to go to the landfill is a lot easier on the wallet than a $1,000 fine, not to mention a lawsuit if the fire damages someone else's property.”
County Judge Mark Barr said area residents considering burning anything outdoors should make sure they have a good reason for doing so.
“This burn ban does not prohibit outdoor burning activities related to public safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, firefighter training, public utility, gas lines and pipelines or the planting or harvesting of agricultural crops,” said Barr. “Also, burns that are directed by prescribed burn managers are not prohibited by the burn ban. There are some exclusions from the ban. However, if you're going to burn something, you better have a really good reason. And if anyone has any questions, they can call my office or call Tommy.”
For more information on the burn ban, contact the Howard County Volunteer Fire Department at 432-268-1165 or the County Judge's Office at 432-264-2202.