AP NEWS

Liberty County issues burn ban for next 60 days

August 20, 2018

With dry conditions reaching high Keetch-Byram Drought Index numbers, County Judge Jay Knight has issued an order prohibiting or restricting outdoor burning for the next 60 days. The ban was issued Monday after consulting with County Fire Marshal Bill Hergemueller.

“We’ve got drying conditions going on and our KBDI is elevated,” Hergemueller said.

The morning number average is at 587, still an elevated number, but by the time the sun’s rays hit their peak in mid-afternoon, the number reaches a dangerous 720 on a scale of 800.

“The dew pattern we have in the morning is drying out and raising our index up to the raised numbers,” he said.

Those numbers were as of Sunday, Aug. 20.

“We’re way over the index mark for calling for a burn ban,” Hergemueller said. “We’ll typically call for one when we start averaging in the high 500s.

It couldn’t be too soon for firemen who are already battling fires.

“We’ve been experiencing some brush fires around the county,” the fire marshal said. “Not a large amount but enough to be concerned about,” he said.

A fire on Sunday afternoon burned approximately 30 acres of land in the Kenefick area.

“We’re concerned about people setting fire to their burn pile and the wind picking it up and spreading it,” he added.

Hergemueller said they’ve been monitoring the conditions the last few days and he and the judge decided to issue the burn ban.

The afternoon showers, he said, are drying out pretty fast, and there’s plenty of ground fuel to ignite a large fire.

“Everything is playing a factor,” he said, including the wind.

The fire marshal said it wasn’t just individual residents, but even developers.

“We have to put them in a hold pattern until we get better conditions,” he said.

According to the Texas A&M website, KBDI is an index used to determining forest fire potential. The drought index is based on a daily water balance, where a drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture (assumed to have a maximum storage capacity of 8-inches) and is expressed in hundredths of an inch of soil moisture depletion.

The drought index ranges from 0 to 800, where a drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion, and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions. Presently, this index is derived from ground-based estimates of temperature and precipitation derived from weather stations and interpolated manually by experts at the Texas Forest Service (TFS) for counties across the state.

Meteorologist Molly Merrifield with the National Weather Service said it’s the dog days of August.

“It’s summertime in Southeast Texas. We are unusually hot right now, however, we do have a weak cold front pushing in today [Monday], but it’s not going to drop temperatures that much,” she said.

Ridging is expected to build in behind that and it will get hotter.

“We’re predicting temperatures in the 100s, but it will be a little bit dryer and the heat index values won’t be quite as bad because it won’t be as humid,” she said.

Merrifield said not to expect any real relief until mid-September and October when better cold fronts start coming through.

The fire marshal warned that fines could be hefty ranging from $200 to $500 depending on the situation. If it crosses onto someone else’s property, Hergemueller would only say, “It’s not going to be a good day for them.”

The order is expected to last for the next 60 days unless the restrictions are terminated based on the Texas Forest Service or the Court.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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