Although some people may think summer months pose the greatest risk of fire, some of the large, progressive fires in Gregg County have flared up in fall and winter.
Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt issued the burn ban Oct. 16 and it will then be reevaluated next week, Gregg County Fire Marshal Mark Moore said.
With a burn ban issued, the order states, “A person commits an offense if he/she burns any combustible material outside of an enclosure which serves to contain all flames and/or sparks, or orders such burning by others.”
The offense is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a $500 fine.
“[T]he purpose of this Order is the mitigation of the hazard posed by wild fires during the current drought conditions by curtailing the practice of outdoor burning, which purpose is to be taken into account in any enforcement action based up on this Order.”
The decision to issue the burn ban is ultimately up to Stoudt, Moore said, but he makes recommendations based on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures moisture in grass and vegetation in the area.
Based on the samples collected and studied, he said, they place counties into one of seven categories from 0-200 representing no loss in moisture to 700-800 that is “absolutely dry conditions.”
As of Oct. 17, Gregg County was listed as being in the 600-700 category. Even though there may be moisture in the soil, the KBDI measures how much moisture is in the vegetation itself.
The rain Gregg County has seen throughout the year helped the vegetation in the area grow faster than typical.
“Then all of a sudden this rain stops and what really is something to look at is when that first frost hits and all of this dies, and all that becomes a fuel package,” Moore said. “That’s something that we want to be very cognizant about.”
This happens during the winter months, Moore said, when the soil will be saturated but the grass is dead and cannot hold any moisture.
In addition to the KBDI information, Moore said, he looks at the relative humidity that can affect the fire potential. Relative humidity measures the moisture in the air.
“Once we’re down below 30 percent, active fire burning increases exponentially,” he said, noting it is even greater when the relative humidity reaches 20 percent and lower when ‘spot fires’ can pop up in the area similarly to 2010. “We’re being really careful.”
When the humidity drops in the middle of the day like it has in recent days, Moore said, any fires can get very active and the area can experience crown fires in trees. In the evenings, though, the humidity increases again and can be the best time to control any fires.
The burn ban will be reevaluated at the start of the week, Moore said, noting he hopes the area gets some of the 40 percent chance of rain predicted for the area.
“That would be fantastic if we could get that,” he said.