Grayson County Commissioners discussed a burn ban Tuesday but stopped short of issuing one. Instead, they decided it was time to look at the policy the county uses to decide when to bring the issue of a burn ban to the court’s agenda.
Commissioner Phyllis James seemed to be in favor of a burn ban citing the frequency of grass fires recently. Others on the court said the county doesn’t even generally consider a burn ban until the Keetch-Byram Drought Index is at least 660. Grayson County Office of Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers said Grayson County’s KDBI index averaged at 301 on Tuesday. The low reading for the county was at 157 and the high was at 444. Somers said the western part of the county was dryer than the rest of it.
Commissioner Jeff Whitmire commented that there wasn’t even a red flag warning for Tuesday and Commissioner David Whitlock pointed out that the area was expected to get rain later in the day on Tuesday.
“I have some real concerns,” James said. “Everything is just so dry and the foliage is so high. We have fires after fires. Maybe some people need to burn their trash, but at what risk to their neighbors?”
She cited the recent high winds and said she would like to see the burn ban reinstated.
“I don’t know what the issue is with putting it on and then watching and see how it goes,” James said.
She said that most folks don’t really understand what the policy is or how to use it and Somers agreed. Somers said that people have gotten lost in the idea of the burn ban.
The state of Texas, she said, forbids burning of trash in unincorporated areas of the county except under a certain set of conditions that include taking into account humidity, winds and other conditions. The burn ban is just one more layer on top of that to call people’s attention to the fact that it really isn’t a good time to burn.
The exceptions to the general rule forbidding burning include firefighter training, fires for recreation, cooking or warmth, fires for disposal of waste or land clearing, and crop residues. But those burns must be conducted in accordance with rules set out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“Commence or continue burning only when the wind direction and other weather conditions are such that the smoke and other pollutants will not present a hazard to any public road, landing strip, or navigable water (e.g., lake, river, stream, or bay) or have an adverse effect on any off-site structure containing ‘sensitive receptors,’” the TCEQ rules say.
The rules also state fires should not be started before one hour after sunrise or continued later than one hour before sunset and a responsible party must be present during the entire burn time.
“Don’t start burning unless weather conditions are such that the smoke will dissipate (winds of at least 6 miles per hour; no temperature inversions) while still allowing the fire to be contained and controlled (winds no faster than 23 miles per hour),” the TCEQ rules state.
Somers said just following the rules laid out in the exceptions to the prohibition for outdoor burning will give most folks a pretty good idea about when they can and can’t burn.
Grayson County Judge Bill Magers called for a motion to put a burn ban in place, but no commissioners offered a motion. However, the court didn’t seem ready to move on just yet.
Commissioner Bart Lawrence said he doesn’t much care for the KDBI index as the deciding factor of when the court will consider a burn ban. He said he would like the county to consider other factors. With that in mind, Magers suggested that Lawrence, James and Somers all form a committee to consider what changes, if any, need to be made to the way the county considers the need for a burn ban. The three agreed they would do so.