Breckenridge Texan

County judge issues disaster declaration banning all outdoor burning as extreme drought conditions continue

County judge issues disaster declaration banning all outdoor burning as extreme drought conditions continue
July 14
15:17 2022

By Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County continues to reel under extreme drought conditions, and because of the dry conditions and fire danger in the area, Stephens County Judge Michael Roach issued a Declaration of Disaster and Order Prohibiting All Outdoor Burning in Stephens County on Monday, July 12, and a revised version of the order today, July 14.

The order bans all outdoor burning but allows some activities, such as welding, with restrictions.

According to Roach, the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which is an index used to determine wild fire potential, jumped 6 points for Stephens County during the last 24 hours. This morning, Stephens County was at 643 on the KBDI. Roach said that in the southern part of the county near Eolian, the reading was 703. To get an idea of how the index works, he said for example, when the Governor’s Office is determining whether to approve a county to ban on firework use during a holiday, the KBDI reading for that county normally must exceed 575 to be approved.

The disaster declaration order was approved by the County Commissioners at their meeting on Monday, putting it into effect for seven days. Roach said, according to what he understands, it can be extended seven days at a time with each extension requiring approval from the Commissioner’s Court. He said commissioners are planning to hold a special meeting on Monday, July 18, to decide whether to extend the order for another seven days.

The seven-day increments allows the order to remain in place even if a brief rainfall lowers the KBDI for a day or two.

In the revised order, Roach said, he removed the reference to the governor, which is not required, and added language that states if someone is engaged in the kind of activity that produces flames or sparks, that they must notify the Breckenridge Fire Department of their location prior to beginning. “That way, if it gets out of hand, they have you on a map and know right where right where to get to you,” he said.

To see the latest version the order posted today, click here.

Roach said, so far, he’s had a very positive response from people in the community about issuing the declaration with some people telling him they wish it had been issued sooner, during the Fourth of July holiday.

“I think with the firework stuff, our KBDI just would not cooperate,” he said. “You know, we were below the threshold; we just could not do anything about it, well…we could have symbolically done something about it, but it wouldn’t have had any teeth in law.”

Roach said basically what the current order does is remove the burning exemptions that are allowed under a burn ban. “What we did was say that you can’t burn,” he said. “Those exemptions that are allowed in a normal burn ban do not apply.”

Although the order doesn’t prohibit anyone from doing activities that create sparks or flames, like welding or grinding metal, it adds safety requirements.

“If you do engage in an activity that creates sparks or flames, you have to have a spotter on hand,” he said. “You have to have a sufficient amount of water, but we say 50 gallons, because you can get a barrel in most vehicles… And then you have to have a way to spread it. You just can’t have water on hand. So we defined what we thought a minimum was, what adequate was, and a way to pump, and a hose — because you can’t just have it where you pour it on something; you got to be able to squirt it — and a spotter on hand. So we didn’t say you can’t undertake these activities. But you have to do it in a prudent and reasonable manner.”

Roach said that earlier in the week there was a fire off of FM 576 that was cause by someone building a fence and grinding metal. The sparks from the grinding set the nearby grass on fire and spread quickly because of high winds and burned around 50 acres. “We’re lucky we got a hold of that,” he said. “Where it was, was a road that kind of helped them stop a little bit.”

Cutline, top photo: One of several burned spots along FM 2231, just south of Breckenridge, illustrates how dry conditions are in the county and how easily wildfires can be started. The area south of Breckenridge has had several small grassfires recently. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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