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Dry conditions trigger county burn ban

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For the first time in more than 11 months, a burn ban prohibiting outdoor burning of trash and brush piles has been approved for all the unincorporated areas of Bandera County.

Bandera County Commissioners’ Court on Thursday, July 23, unanimously approved an order implementing a burn ban in the county for 90 days unless the county judge makes the determination that drought conditions no longer call for the ban and lifts it early.

Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith endorsed the ban, saying hot, dry weather for months has withered grass across the county, creating a likelihood that a grass fire will race rapidly out of control once it gets started.

A few grass fires already have been reported in the county, some of them caused by sparks from a trash fire, and the county’s rating on a drought index used to measure the severity of drought conditions had reached 635, well above the level viewed as the point where a burn ban is needed, the fire marshal said.

“It’s just that time of year again,” said Stith. “We’d expect to implement it now.”

Commissioners last implemented a 90-day burn ban on Aug. 8 as the summer heat dried out fields across the Hill Country.

It was terminated 90 days later and never officially reinstated for a full 90 days, though temporary bans have been implemented when windy conditions made outdoor burning hazardous.

The ban prohibits anyone from burning trash and brush piles outdoors unless they are placed in a container with a fine-mesh cover. Open campfires also are prohibited unless there is a way to control the fire with a cover.

But Stith said even with a cover, outdoor fires are not recommended at the current time.

“It’s just dry. It’s best to just not burn,” he said.

Anyone caught violating the ban is subject to being charged with a Class C misdemeanor offense that is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

County Judge Richard Evans said the ban was needed and probably could have been implemented a little earlier based on how fire prone fields have gotten this summer.

He said with a fair amount of rain in the spring, a lot of grass grew that now has dried out and created considerable fuel for wildfires once one is triggered.

“It’s like gasoline on a fire when it starts,” he said.

A little rain did fall on Bandera County this weekend as Hurricane Hanna moved through South Texas, but it was not nearly enough to eliminate the dry conditions that have caused the burn ban, officials said.

Stith said officials will keep an eye on rainfall totals and soil moisture levels to determine if the ban can be lifted before the 90-day term ends. Evans said he would consult with the fire marshal and with volunteer fire departments across the county in determining whether to rescind the restrictions.

The ban does contain a few exceptions that allow burns authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for firefighter training, public utility, natural gas pipeline and mining operations, the planting and harvesting of crops and prescribed burns that comply with the Natural Resources Code.

The fire marshal has said anyone with a question about details of the ban should call his office at 830-460-8183.

Commissioners also voted last week to approve proposed salaries and allowances for elected officials next year that contain no raises outside of additional payments due for the length of service officials have provided the county as deliberations on a new budget move forward.

Block grants that the county allocates to nonprofit organizations, county libraries and other agencies also were approved.

The total amount of grants fell by a little over $1,000 from last year since the organization that holds the Medina River cleanup every year has cancelled that initiative this year in the face of the coronavirus and did not request assistance, nor did the organization that operates the Sister City programs in Bandera County.

The total amount allocated to grants is $341,751.

Commissioners did agree to allocate $1,000 more this year to the San Antonio Food Bank, which has supplied food for a variety of food giveaways for needy residents this spring and summer. Its total allocation will be $13,000.

Receiving an additional $500 in grants was K’Star Inc., which runs an emergency shelter for youth and provides community counseling services. Its total allocation will be $4,500.