If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
“WE ARE IN A DIRE SITUATION,’ FIRE CHIEF SAYS
A presentation on wildfire hazards by La Salle County Fire Rescue Chief Daniel Mendez prompted commissioners to agree Thursday, August 10, to sign a new ban on all outdoor burning for unincorporated areas of the county.
The 90-day burn ban takes the place of a previous order that was set to expire this month.
Mendez cited the Keetch-Byram Drought Index and the Texas Forest Service forecast for fire danger in his brief outline to commissioners, stressing the region’s progressively extreme drought making conditions prime for fast-moving wildfires.
The fire brigade chief also said an increasing number of emergency calls regarding grass fires in La Salle and neighboring counties should be regarded as strong evidence of the likelihood that the county will suffer burns in the coming weeks.
La Salle County is the latest in the region to order a new ban on outdoor burning. Frio County commissioners renewed their order on July 17.
The order prohibits all outdoor burning of trash, brush and other waste, and restricts agricultural burns to those ordered and supervised by local authorities. Violations are cited as misdemeanors and punishable by fines of up to $500.
“This is a critical wildfire threat right now,” Chief Mendez told commissioners during their emergency meeting last week. “Any wildfire will spread fast. These conditions cover a wide area of the state, from Laredo up to Dallas.
“Not only do we have a drought situation in which there is a lot of dry brush to feed a fire, but wind conditions play a significant role,” Mendez said. “During the day, we are experiencing wind gusts of fifteen to twenty miles per hour, and we have typically experienced stronger gusts in the evenings and nighttime hours. These factors combine to signify that we are going into critical fire danger.”
La Salle County firefighters have been called to assist neighboring communities with wildfire response on a number of recent occasions, among them grass fires beside IH-35 and state highways, and a wildfire that scorched several acres between La Salle and Frio counties.
The Keetch-Byram Drought Index, published by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Forest Service, lists La Salle County as going into the summer months under a moderate fire danger rating at the beginning of May, when only regions in southeast Texas and portions of the Gulf Coast were listed at low risk. The danger level was elevated to high for far West Texas during June and “very high” for areas near Alpine and Pecos. Meanwhile, the area listed as under moderate fire danger increased in size as drought conditions spread through South Texas during July, with virtually all of South Texas listed at “high” or “very high” on Aug. 9.
Portions of Central Texas near Belton, Killeen, Lampasas and Temple, and southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex were listed by the Forest Service as being in extreme fire danger last week.
A large portion of Frio County has been listed as being in “very high” danger of wildfires.
Mendez also noted that South Texas’ present heatwave shows no sign of breaking, and daytime highs in triple digits have put the heat index at between 115 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
“We are in a dire situation,” the fire chief told commissioners before they signed their 90-day order. “We are trying to prevent any situation like we had last year.”
The court’s burn ban was issued on a motion by Comm. Raul Ayala, seconded by Comm. Noel Niaves and supported by Comm. Erasmo Ramirez. Comm. Jack Alba was absent from the meeting.