By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO COUNTY – Dangerous fire conditions are on the rise, with dead vegetation now abundant and no significant rain, as was forecast.
On Sunday, Palo Pinto County was at the heart of a “very high fire danger” area, which included all the adjacent counties, as well as nearby Comanche and Somervell counties.
In nearby counties, there are currently burn bans in Wise, Stephens, Eastland and Comanche counties, but not in Palo Pinto, Parker, Erath, Hood, Jack or Young counties. Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell said he expects commissioners to approve a burn ban at next week’s meeting, which would go into effect Nov. 27.
“We didn’t get rain like we were supposed to, so conditions are right for winter fires right now,” Harwell said. “There’s dead vegetation in the bar ditches, it’s dry, windy and the trees are losing leaves.”
“Some areas have already had a frost or even a killing freeze, which cures the grasses and makes them more available to burn,” said Nick Harrison, a wildland-urban interface staff forester with Texas A&M Forest Service. “Coupled with a low amount of rainfall in October, [this] means the grasses and other vegetation are experiencing stress. And in some areas the drought has continued.”
Like many of its neighbors to the south and east, Palo Pinto County is currently in the 500-600 range on the drought index the Texas A&M Forest Service uses to forecast wild fires. Those to the west are listed in the 400-500 range and Hood County is now in the 600-700 range on the drought index.
When numbers are 400 and above, conditions are drier and dry vegetation will contribute to fire intensity and burn actively.
Palo Pinto County had one small fire over the weekend near Farm-to-Market Road 4 and Interstate 20, which Santo Volunteer Fire Department responded to.
On Saturday afternoon, two roadside fires ignited on the south side of U.S. Highway 180, just west of Cool. However, the roadway and wind – out of the south – seemed to keep the fires from spreading out of control.
“This time of year through March, we start getting frontal passages on a regular basis and many are dry fronts similar to what we had last week, which can increase fire size and make wildfires harder to contain and control,” Harrison said. “An accidental fire could grow in size and intensity, under these conditions.”
“We encourage citizens to be careful during outdoor activities,” he added.
He said in the colder months people should take caution with campfires, if they are allowed in areas where they are camping or hunting.
Additionally, Harrison said drivers need to “use caution when parking in tall grass,” since heat from the catalytic converter can easily start a fire.
For homeowners Harrison suggests:
• Trim low limbs off the ground.
• Trim trees away from chimneys and roofs.
• Clear roofs and gutter of leaves.
• Check around your home for grass that needs to be mowed or removed.
• Clear leaves that collect in corners.
• Move log piles from under your home’s eave.
• Clear any area where an ember or fire could reach and start a fire that may grow in intensity and further impact your home or property.
For additional information, Harrison recommends visiting the Texas Firewise website at www.texasfirewise.org.
By LIBBY CLUETT
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