Grayson County Commissioners extended a burn ban Tuesday that was put in place Friday through a disaster declaration because of consecutive days of triple-digit heat scorching the region and the related dry conditions that elevated the risk of fires.
Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said he made the emergency declaration Friday on the advice of Grayson County Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers.
“Just pray for rain,” Commissioner Bart Lawrence said a few times during Tuesday’s meeting.
Much of Texoma remains in a state of moderate drought or abnormally dry, with conditions threatening to escalate into full-scale drought, the Texas Water Development Board said Monday in its weekly water update. For Grayson County, the eastern portions of the county have been in a state of moderate drought for three weeks, while all other portions remain abnormally dry.
The burn ban prohibits the burning of any combustible material outside an enclosure designed to contain all flames and sparks. The new ban will remain in effect through Tuesday, when the Grayson County Commissioners Court will review conditions again and decide whether to extend or end the order. A report issued Friday by the Texas A&M Forest Service placed Grayson County among more than 140 counties across the state that had a burn ban in place. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for much of North Texas and Central Texas last week, a warning which was last issued in 2011 and remained in effect through the weekend.
In the county’s proclamation, an excess of dry vegetation created by the high temperatures was listed as a primary risk factor for fires.
For the month of July, one of the driest months of the year, a co-op weather station in Sherman has received just one inch of rainfall, National Weather Service Meteorologist Bianca Villanueva said Tuesday. This is well below the expected rainfall of 2.62 inches of rain for the month.
“One of the major things we saw was the rain we saw this spring and even in June,” Villanueva said. “We are where we should be for the year.”
With the dry conditions, Villanueva said the ground has been exceptionally warm, which she said likely helps exacerbate the extremely hot weather much of the state received last week. Villanueva said a high-pressure cell that sat over the region and kept moisture away in recent days has shifted out of the region, leading to cooler temperatures for this week. With the shift, Villanueva said there is a chance for rain over the weekend — albeit a small one.
Rain enters the forecast on Saturday with light chances Saturday, increasing to 40 percent Sunday night. Chances drop to 20 percent Monday before drying out later throughout the week, she said. This rain will also reduce temperatures even further, with Monday’s high expected to be just 91, Villanueva said.
Sherman Police said heat-related illness may have led to the death of 22-year-old earlier this month, when temperatures reached more than 100 degrees. The man’s cause of death remains under investigation, but authorities are urging members of the public to avoid spending time outside during peak temperature hours, take frequent breaks when outdoors and to drink plenty of water.
Generally, the county considers burn ban-related questions when the KBDI is 650 or above. The KBDI is an index based on temperature estimates and precipitation gathered from weather stations and analyzed by experts at the Texas Forest Service. Magers said he had not checked this week but he was sure that the area is still too dry for safe burning. He said commissioners will consider the ban again when they meet next Tuesday.
A violation of the burn ban could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail, if convicted.
The moderate drought and “abnormally dry” conditions persisted across Texoma for the third week in a row, the TWDB update said. The update saw only minor improvement in drought conditions across the state, with 46 percent of Texas affected by some form of drought.
“The latest drought map shows a 3 percentage point decrease in the area of the state impacted by drought,” TWDB hydrologist Mark Wentzel said in the report. “Scattered rains brought improvement across the northern half of the state. But drought continued to grow in Central Texas, expanding into Concho, McCullock and Menard counties.”
The update comes following an unseasonably wet winter, which transitioned into a dry spring and early summer. While portions of Texoma received nearly nine inches of rain in February, each month since has been below the expected average.
These dry conditions have been most visible in the Texas Panhandle, which has been a mixture of “extreme” and “exceptional” drought for much of 2018. However, recent rains have improved conditions in that region in recent weeks.
Herald Democrat reporter Drew Smith also contributed to this article.