Bexar County Commissioners put into effect Tuesday an immediate 90-day outdoor burn ban for areas in unincorporated Bexar County. Heightened environmental risks and recent grass fires prompted the decision.

“Since January 2017, there have been over 650 grass fires in the Bexar County area,” Bexar County Fire Marshal Chris Lopez said. “I urge all residents to be diligent and remove any fuel sources of wildfires such as dry brush piles.”

Dry brush piles, tall grasses, heavy fuel loads, varying temperatures, high wind speeds, and humid conditions are the environmental factors responsible for the increased burn security, according to a press release distributed by the County.

Moreover, Bexar County’s readings on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index are high. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index is an indicator of fire potential, with readings ranging from 0-800.

Bexar County’s drought index readings range from 436-655. At the time the ban was put into effect, the reading was 582. As of Wednesday, the reading increased to 597. Higher numbers on the index represent increasingly dry conditions.

To see Bexar County’s latest readings on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, click here. To learn more about the index itself, click here.

The specifics of the ban state that residents burning household waste must do so in burn barrels that are fitted with metal wire mesh screens, which prevent the spread of sparks and flames. Under no other circumstances will domestic outdoor burning be permitted, but exceptions may be granted by the County Fire Marshall. Examples of exceptions include burns for firefighter training, public utilities, natural gas pipelines, mining operations, or the harvesting of agricultural crops, according to the press release.

Violating the burn ban is a Class C misdemeanor, the lowest criminal offense in Texas. The corresponding punishment includes a fine not to exceed $500.

The 90-day ban period began on July 25. Bexar County Commissioners may lift the ban earlier than expected if it is determined that there are no longer fire hazards threatening public safety.

Lopez urged unincorporated communities to take caution for wildfires and grassfires. Previously rural areas around the County are now covered by unprecedented expanses of development, and those areas ought to be prepared for fire occurrences.

For more information on wildfire risk and outdoor burning guidelines, click here. The Bexar County Fire Marshall’s website includes resources such as additional information on wildfire risk assessments and fire divisions. Citizens may also sign up to receive emergency notifications from the County here.

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.