By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO COUNTY – After a weekend of several fires around the county, along with a continually rising drought index, Palo Pinto County commissioners reinstated a ban on outdoor burning.
County Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell said the average drought number was at 558 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. Combined with the high and low figures, he said, “They are all up and it will be dry and hot this week.”
According to the Texas A&M Forest Service website, http://texasforestservice.tamu.edu, when the KBDI is 400 – 600, “wildfire intensity begins to increase significantly.”
Harwell asked commissioners to put the burn ban back on “until we get significant rain again.”
In his monthly report on incidents in July, Harwell said it was the busiest month he has had since he started this job one-and-a-half years ago.
He said about 90 percent of the fires in July were started by fireworks.
Additionally, he said there were five house fires, two of which – one in Gordon and one in Strawn – are under investigation for arson.
Added to these, Harwell said he assisted the Brazos River Authority on the Independence Day weekend drownings.
Over the weekend, namely Saturday afternoon, several calls went out to various county departments for fires, including one involving ammunition and some that had been smoldering after lightning strikes some days ago.
Most of the weekend fires were within an hour or so from each other, according to Lone Camp Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charlie Sims, who was acting deputy fire marshal over the weekend.
One fire, just southwest of Strawn at the Copeland Ranch, smoldered in heavy timber before it was detected, according to Sims.
“It was about 20 acres in a real heavy, overgrown area,” he said, adding that Strawn and Gordon VFDs responded and Strawn thought they had it under control since it was surrounded by roads.
He said the fire was still burning Monday.
Almost simultaneously, fireworks ignited a blaze on the west side of Possum Kingdom Lake, which burned two outbuildings.
Sims said the fire was “real close to some structures and burned an outbuilding that had about three boxes of 223 caliber ammo.”
Firefighters had to wait until the ammo “cooked off” Sims explained, adding, “PK West saved the house right next to the two outbuildings that burned. They did a really good job.”
Also on Saturday afternoon, a small fire broke out near the north access road of Interstate 20, according to Sims, which he said was near the old rattlesnake ranch. He added that Santo and Brazos VFDs tended to that fire.
Around the same time, Sims said there was a reported gas leak on Teichman Road, on Dodson Prairie, which he said required closing off the road until someone could repair the leak.
Mineral Wells Fire Department and VFD were also engaged Saturday afternoon.
MWFD extinguished a small grass fire in a pasture in the 1400 block of Municipal Highway 379 early in the afternoon, while MWVFD responded to a flaming transformer around 7 p.m.
In addition to the multiple fires around the county, emergency responders were busy with at least two major wrecks – one Friday, shortly after 4 p.m. and another Saturday afternoon.
The Index tried to reach the Texas Department of Public Safety to obtain information on the wrecks and on the individuals involved, but was unsuccessful.