BELTON — Bell County Commissioners put in place a ban on outdoor burnings Monday as drought conditions worsened.
Two dozen fires over the past week prompted commissioners to take action to limit burning, which could contribute to even more fires. Commissioners approved the ban in a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Bill Schumann absent from the meeting.
Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt said the burn ban will last 30 days, unless repealed by the county judge as a result of improved conditions.
Mahlstedt said the weather forecast does show the possibility of rain but the county will need to wait and see if it really does get any precipitation.
“We are expecting some rain this week, 30 to 50 percent off and on,” Mahlstedt said. “However, the last two weeks we were supposed to get rain and we haven’t seen a drop yet, at least I haven’t.”
The National Weather Service shows a chance of rain for the remainder of the week, including a 40 percent chance Tuesday and an 80 percent chance Wednesday.
Temperatures for this week, according to the Weather Service, include highs mainly in the low 90s to 80s and lows in the 60s.
Mahlstedt said the recommendation to issue the burn ban was both his opinion and the opinions of local fire department chiefs he talks to.
The recommendation to implement the burn ban also comes as the county has met several criteria that it looks at before moving forward. This criteria includes the county exceeding 500 on the Keetch-Bryam Drought Index, temperatures above 90 degrees and surrounding counties like Lampasas and McLennan implementing their own bans.
Areas of the county, Mahlstedt said, have also been getting close to seeing less than 25 percent humidity, another criteria the county uses to implement the ban.
Increased grass fires
Mahlstedt said the county has seen 33 grass fires so far this month, with about 24 happening over the past week. He said many of those 24 took place during the weekend.
Commissioner Bobby Whitson said had shown concern about some of the larger fires seen over the weekend that are harder to take care of compared to some brush fires.
“When we are seeing a fire ignite, typically you can run out there with one guy in a brush truck and knock it out really quick no problem,” Whitson said. “This last weekend I think we had several that got taken care of very, very quickly. I think it is prudent to put the burn ban in until we get some rain.”
Of the two bigger fires over the weekend, one occurred near Salado and burnt about five acres.
Dana Peak fire
The second fire, which took place near Dana Peak Park in Harker Heights, required the help of the county’s west side and east side strike teams. The two strike teams include fire departments from around the county as well as Copperas Cove.
The fire, the cause of which has still not been determined, did not cause any damage to people or homes, according to FME News Service.
“It was pretty intense out there for a little while,” Mahlstedt said. “No houses were lost but it got pretty close.”
Belton High event
Karen Rudolph, spokeswoman for the Belton Independent School District, said the burn ban is anticipated to affect Belton High School’s Burning of the B event, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday near the campus.
District officials, Rudolph said, will need to get together in order to discuss backup plans previously put in place in case of this type of situation.
An announcement about the event will be forthcoming, she said.