Ector County Commissioners passed a county-wide burn ban last week, prohibiting outside fires in county limits, but since that time there have been a number of fires throughout the county.
Of the 24 fires Odessa Fire Rescue responded to in the past week, Assistant Fire Marshal Yolanda Rincon said there have been six grass or brush fires, three outside fires, three dumpster fires, a structure fire and a mobile home fire.
The burn ban passed prohibits anyone in the county from starting outside fires, but there are a few exceptions. Residents can still burn their trash as long as it’s in a barrel with a grate on top of it.
“There’s a lot of exemptions. You can do a prescribed burn, but that’s very difficult, especially during windy conditions,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said. “Basically, you just can’t pile up stuff and burn it to the ground.”
Rincon added that, while the county’s burn ban will last only 90 days, Odessa has a permanent ban against outside burning within city limits. Anyone found illegally burning outside will be issued a citation and fined. The Ector County Sheriff’s Office stated in a news release after the ban was issued that they would issue warnings for the first two weeks the ban was enacted but will begin issuing citations and fines on Thursday.
Childers said the ban was passed following discussions commissioners had with fire chiefs who were concerned about this year’s fire season.
“All the winds and low humidity make it very dangerous,” Childers said. “I told them I would put it on the agenda even though the drought index numbers are low.”
The drought index Childers referred to is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which uses precipitation and soil moisture measurements to determine drought conditions. As of Friday, Texas A&M AgriLife Research reported Ector County having a KBDI average of 315.34, a number which they reported means fuels are beginning to dry and contribute to wildfire intensity, but heavier fuels will still not readily ignite and burn. In this case, they consider fuels to be any natural combustible material lying around, such as brush, moss, branches and grass. They report that this number is often seen in late spring or early summer.
“From my perspective, those numbers are never very accurate until everything greens up,” Childers said, who served the Odessa Fire Department for 23 years and retired as Assistant Fire Chief.
Childers said the National Weather Service is on high alert around West Texas as well due to the high winds.
“The wind fuels the fire,” he said. “It spreads it very quickly. Fire in 30 to 40 miles per hour winds can run 60 to 70 miles per hour.”
NWS has predicted high winds this Sunday reaching up to 20 to 30 mph in the afternoon with gusts as high as 45 mph, but winds are expected to calm down through the rest of next week.
But despite the ban being enacted more than a week ago, Fox 24 reported there was an outside fire caused by burning trash that caused four mobile homes to burn to the ground Monday near 42nd Street and Redondo Avenue. No injuries were reported.
The American Red Cross states on their website that the best ways for people to prepare their home in case of a fire is to install smoke alarms on every level of the house and test them regularly, as well as to develop a fire escape plan ahead of time.
This is the first burn ban in more than a year for the county, as Childers said they didn’t pass one last year because they had a large amount of rain, but he said the downside to having a good wet year is it increases the fuel loads in the county.
Midland County is currently also considering enacting a burn ban, Midland County Fire Marshal Dale Little told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. The Texas A&M Forest Service reported there are currently 91 counties in Texas with burn bans in place, including nearby counties such as Winkler Ward, Crane and Upton Counties.