The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

August 2, 2008

Postpone all outdoor burning

Published Sun., Aug. 3, 2008

Like much of Texas, Anderson County is locked in the dog days of an exceptionally dry summer.

Since June 1, the City of Palestine has received a grand total of 1 inch of rainfall. The 30-year average total in Palestine during the months of June and July (1971 through 2000) is 7.08 inches.

It would be nice to say relief is on the way, but, with history as our guide, that’s likely not the case.

August is historically Palestine’s second driest month as the city has averaged 3.23 inches during the month over the same 30-year period. Only July sees less rainfall locally on average.

For the year, the City of Palestine has recorded a total of 11.32 inches through the end of July — less than half the average amount the city has received at the same point historically (26.2 inches).

This past Monday, the Anderson County commissioners’ court took a step in the right direction by voting unanimously to institute a 90-day burn ban. Unless the court votes to lift it at some point, the ban will remain in effect through Oct. 26.

And while government can pass an order complete with a punitive aspect (violation of the burn ban carries up to a $500 fine), it takes the cooperation of concerned, common-sensical citizens to make certain the county does not experience any unnecessary loss of property or even the unthinkable, human injury or loss of life.

The Texas Forest Service warns that absent any significant, widespread, long-duration rains all of East Texas faces a growing threat of wildfires.

Robert Grisham, regional forester with the Texas Forest Service in Crockett, says accidental fires due to escaped debris (burning of household trash, brush piles, leaves and other lawn debris) continue to be the primary cause of wildfires in East Texas.

Unattended fires, fires with inadequate or no firebreaks around them, spark-producing equipment, hot vehicle exhaust systems and careless disposal of smoking materials all have led to recent wildfires in the area, according to Grisham.

The Texas Forest Service offers several tips relating to potential causes of wildfires:

• Burning trash or trash piles — Burn debris in barrels with metal screens or in small piles in areas cleared of vegetation. Stay with the fire until it is completely extinguished. Have a shovel and water handy.

• Protecting your home — Keep your yard mowed closely and remove all trash, brush and combustible materials from within a 30-foot radius of your home. Contact your local fire department or the Texas Forest Service for ways to make your home safer from wildfire.

• Driving — Hot catalytic converters and exhaust systems can cause wildland fires. Park and drive only in areas free of dry vegetation. Dragging chains cause sparks, so be careful when towing.

• Smoking — Extinguish and dispose of smoking materials in your vehicle ashtray.

• Cooking outdoors — Remember coals and ashes are still a fire hazard until they are cold to the touch.

• Storing matches and lighters — Keep them out of the reach of children.

• Building campfires — Build only in open, level spots away from trees and overhanging branches. Extinguish campfires completely with water. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

• Operating agricultural equipment — Keep mufflers and spark arresters in proper working order and avoid rocks and metal when using a blade or a mower. Regularly check sealed bearings in round balers for overheating.

• Welding — Before welding, remove vegetation from the work area or wet it down. Have someone with you to watch for sparks and keep a shovel and water handy.

The bottom line is this:

Unless absolutely necessary, please delay outdoor burning until the area has received much-needed rain. We all need to assume a proactive stance to ensure we take steps to prevent wildfires rather than contribute to their possibility.