Bexar County approved a 90-day outdoor burn ban Tuesday for unincorporated areas of the county where residents live outside the city limits. In these areas, residents don’t receive city-like services such as water, garbage pickup, libraries, airports, and hospitals.
The ban, effective immediately, is set to expire on Oct. 23, but Bexar County Fire Marshal Chris Lopez can lift the ban sooner if conditions improve.
San Antonio and the surrounding counties received large amounts of torrential rainfall and flooding this spring, which led to an accumulation of fuel, or living and dead debris and vegetation. Lopez said that heavy fuel loads mixed with changing humidity, high temperatures, and wind speeds are a perfect recipe for brush fires. Outdoor burning only makes matters worse.
After the abundant spring rains across Bexar County, temperatures climbed upward, leading to very dry conditions in the area. According to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which assesses an area’s fire potential on a scale of 0-800 with the highest range signaling the driest conditions, Bexar County falls into the range of 574-607 as of Monday. Over the next two weeks, the Texas Forest Service predicts that the county-wide average – which is currently 512 – will jump to 607.
Additionally, the Fire Marshal’s office recorded a notable increase in grass fires over the past two months. Grass fires jumped from 24 in June to 95 so far in July, Chief Investigator John Ortega Jr. told commissioners Tuesday.
“(Grass fires are) getting to be particularly hazardous at this point in the summer,” he said.
Under the ban, residents can only burn household waste in special burn barrels that use metal wire mesh screens to prevent sparks or flames from spreading. All other outdoor burning is prohibited, unless authorized by the Fire Marshal’s office. Burning for firefighting training; public utility, natural gas pipeline, or mining operations; or the harvesting of agricultural crops are the only other exceptions.
Violating the burn ban is Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Even though San Antonio received rainfall on Monday and weather forecasts predict more showers to come today, the Fire Marshal’s office isn’t taking any chances with the ban. In fact, at least two out of the past four burn bans initiated by the Fire Marshal’s office have been passed on days when it has rained, said Bexar County Emergency Management Coordinator Kyle Coleman.
“The one thing we can say is that at least we’re consistent,” he said.
Top image: A Texas wildfire. Photo by Flickr user Patrick Feller.