Burn ban not wanted, but necessary

The word came down Monday — Howard County commissioners approved a burn ban at the request of Howard County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tommy Sullivan in hopes of staving off wildfires that could be nothing short of catastrophic.Catastrophe?Yes, it’s a strong word, but one need only remember the grassfires that turned into far-ranging wildfires in the Coleman area a few years ago, or the seemingly annual fires in Southern California to understand that all it takes is a small spark to spell disaster.Fall has always been wildfire season in West Texas, and this year firefighters are more concerned than normal because there’s much more fuel to feed a fire than normal.This has been somewhat of a wet year. The countryside was green much of the summer, meaning plenty of vegetation was produced.But the weather has been dry for several weeks now, fall has arrived. Trees are dropping their leaves. Higher grass and stands of brush are now dry, and that means the entire area is a tinderbox.In fact, Sullivan made it clear during Monday’s court session when he said, “It's an extremely dangerous situation right now and it's going to get worse as we move into the winter months... We have to do everything we can of keep the human causes of grass and brush fires to a minimum.”Approximately 90 percent of the wildfires they see are caused by people.County Judge Mark Barr noted that there are some exclusions from the ban. "However, if you're going to burn something, you better have a really good reason," he stressed. "It's a $500 fine and if it gets away from you, it can get more expensive than that."Texas Forest Service officials are constantly reminding us that we all need to use extreme caution when it comes to any outdoor burning.We should all remain vigilant, because here in dry and windy West Texas, it only takes a spark or two to create a serious problem. Simply riding on the rim of a flat tire on your car or pitching a cigarette butts out the window of one’s vehicle is enough to create a potential catastrophe.But many of us would never think about the exhaust pipes and catalytic converters on our vehicles as a potential hazard, but they certainly can be if we’re driving over dry brush and grass.Officials say if you have to pull off the road, be sure to look for a gravel area and stay away from areas where the grass is tall enough to come into contact with your vehicle’s exhaust system, because it only takes a few minutes of being parked there to start a small fire that can grow quickly.That’s advice farmers and ranchers obviously need to heed, but also something all of us need to know and remember.Remember, when it comes to fire in this country, you really can’t be too safe.