Breckenridge Texan

County-wide burn ban extended for 90 days as extreme dry conditions continue to plague area

County-wide burn ban extended for 90 days as extreme dry conditions continue to plague area
August 11
09:05 2020

Stephens County Commissioners voted at their meeting on Monday to reinstate the county-wide burn ban for another 90 days due to extreme dry conditions in the county.

Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney, who also serves as the fire marshal for the county, told the court that he recommends keeping the burn ban in place. He said the area is extremely dry right now and they’ve had fires started from cutting and welding, people dragging chains and even one started by a hot chainsaw that set the grass on fire when it was set down.

Extremely dry conditions in county

Chaney said people are just not aware of how dry it is. “The biggest deal right now is the cutting and welding,” he said. “We’ve had more fires from that than anything.”

At one fire they responded to, Chaney said, they had six people cutting and fire watchers keeping an eye on them and even had a trailer mounted water sprayer. Then, when a fire did start, the workers jumped right on it, but couldn’t stop it because it was just so dry and the wind was blowing that day. “We’re just in a bad place right now,” he said.

Chaney says it would be best if everyone could hold off cutting or welding until conditions improve. However, he said, if somebody does have to cut or weld right now, they should try to do it in the early morning when temperatures are cooler and the wind is not blowing as much. He also said to make sure you have a fire watcher and water on hand.

Another important thing Chaney said to keep in mind when out on a cutting or welding job is to make sure you know where you’re at and how to give firefighters directions to get there if something goes wrong.  And, if something does go wrong, he said call 911 immediately.

Cheney also pointed out is that if someone causes a fire, they could be liable for any damages the fire might cause to someone else’s property.

Measuring the dry conditions in the county

To see just how dry conditions in the county are, Chaney said the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is used to measure drought conditions, shows that Stephens County has an average of 576 with 800 being the maximum drought rating. However, he said there are some areas in the county that are registering as high as 646 on the index.

Chaney said one way to put it into perspective on how dry the area is, is it consider it would only take a 575 index rating to ban fireworks if it this were the Fourth of July holiday. And the county has 576.12 average rating, which is higher than that.

“We’re extremely dry,” Chaney said. “That just means your fuels are drier and easier to ignite.”

Increased use of volunteer fire departments

Also a change going on with fire calls right now is that the Breckenridge Fire Department is depending more on volunteer fire departments to respond earlier to fire calls.

Most of the time the BFD doesn’t call volunteers until they get there and know they need them. But now, Chaney said, they call the VFDs immediately when they get a fire call for a couple of reasons: the Breckenridge Fire Department is short a fire truck, and it’s just so critically dry in the area right now.

Chaney said they currently have one wildfire fighting truck out of service because of a blown engine. The county received a grant to pay for two fire trucks, one to replace the truck with the blown engine and another older truck. However, because of slowdowns at the Ford manufacture plant caused by COVID-19, the factory is behind schedule and they are still waiting on the trucks.

The new trucks will be cab and chassis units, which are trucks with a cab and flat bed. When the trucks arrive, Chaney said, the firefighting equipment from the old truck will be transferred over to the new trucks.

Increased enforcement

Because of the extreme conditions in the area, Chaney said they are strictly enforcing the Burn Ban. He said they have already filed multiple cases in the Justice of Peace Court for burn ban and fireworks violations.

The Wayland Volunteer Fire Department, along with the Hubbard Creek VFD, assisted the Breckenridge Fire Department on Sunday afternoon at a grassfire west of the Mile Long Bridge over Hubbard Creek Lake. (Photo courtesy of the Breckenridge Fire Department)

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: The Breckenridge Fire Department responded to a fire on U.S. Highway 180 West on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 9. The Wayland Volunteer Fire Department, Hubbard Creek VFD, Stephens County Sheriff’s Office and James Wade assisted in putting out the fire, according to the BFD’s Facebook page. (Photo courtesy of the Breckenridge Fire Department)

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