Recent rain was a welcome sight to firefighters after a series of fires over the last week.
Parker County Emergency Services District 1 responded to a little over 12 grass fires within the last 10 days at a time when weather conditions are prime, officials said.
“We typically respond to around 150 grass fires per year, and 2020 has been slower than average due to pretty consistent rainfall,” ESD 1 Chief Stephen Watson said. “However, this leads to copious amounts of dormant vegetation to fuel winter fires when weather conditions are prime, mainly unseasonably warm and low humidity day — which support fires getting started — coupled with sustained windy conditions, which supports rapid spread. ESD 1 has responded to just over a dozen grass fires in the last week.”
The fires were caused by welding, opening burning of trash or brush and fireworks.
Watson said showers on Wednesday and Thursday would be a tremendous help to the current situation.
Parker County Fire Marshal Sean Hughes said his office updates burning status daily on the Parker County Office of Emergency Services Facebook page.
“This last weekend, we had a very busy weekend because we had low humidity, dry conditions and people not monitoring their burns,” Hughes said. “The commissioners have established a burn ban that allows the fire marshal to suspend or reactivate that for a period of time. So yes, we have a burn ban, I have it suspended and we go day-to-day on the ability to burn.”
Hughes added that every morning his office makes a determination on burning based on information from the National Weather Service and checking ozone levels.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten drier because we haven’t gotten any rain and we’ve had people not paying close enough attention to the size of what they’re burning. People are burning big piles when they should be breaking it into two smaller piles and that has caused some of the fires,” he said. “When we’re dealing with structure fires, we have people not maintaining their heaters well, not monitoring candles, so you tend to get additional fires as we get into winter because people are closing up buildings and not paying close attention to smoking materials or decorative items like candles.”
Hughes added that now is also a good time for residents to change their smoke detector batteries.
“We recommend you change the batteries in your smoke detectors when you change your clocks,” he said. “As always, if you have questions you can contact your local fire department or you can contact my office and we’ll help you any way that we can.”
Watson said basic landscaping is one way residents can do their part to stay safe.
“Residents can help by making sure foliage is trimmed and kept to a minimum, and tall grass or brush is not too close to your home, and getting involved with your local fire department/emergency services district to learn more about the added response capacity we need as the county continues to grow,” he said.
Watson said some of the most destructive wildfires in Texas have occurred in the winter months.
“Jan. 22, 2018, we had three major fires in the county, one of which burned over 2,000 acres in just four hours in the Aledo/Willow Park area, and shut down both [Interstate] 20 and I-30 for a few hours causing major traffic problems,” he said. “We work hard to make sure extra resources are available on elevated fire weather days in the winter because of the substantial risk it brings, especially in the wildland/urban interface areas that are becoming an increasing concern as we have rapid residential growth across the country.”
Hughes said for the year, the county is actually a few inches above average for rainfall, and this week should help with dry conditions.
“It’s been a while since we had any precipitation and even though we’re above what our average is, we had it in greater quantities and right now we’re drying out and rain would help us tremendously,” he said.
Watson said the county’s current drought conditions are actually very mild and that dormant fire fuels, such as grass and small brush, are the main problems.
“If we see more warm, dry/low humidity in the days before spring, we can still have a significant wildfire problem, especially if dry weather is coupled with windy conditions,” he said. “Keep an eye on the Parker County Emergency Services District 1 Facebook page. We typically post when there is elevated fire danger.”
As a final reminder, Hughes said it’s important for residents to think about what they’re burning and how it’s burned.
“Always keep an adult with it and [have] a water source so they can put it out,” he said. “The last thing I want to tell everybody is if you’re burning outdoors — like if you’re burning your leaves — if that fire gets out of hand, you’re responsible for that damage. So if it burns into your neighbor’s yard and they have bales of hay, you’re responsible for those.”
For more information, contact the office of emergency management at 817-598-0969.