As drought conditions continue surging upward, Comal County commissioners on Thursday could consider reinstating the traditional ban on outdoor burning in addition to conditional ban in place since late March.
Fire Marshal Kory Klabunde said no major fires had yet been reported throughout the county through Wednesday, but there has been some ‘confusion’ over the conditional ban issued March 25, which is based on high winds and lack of humidity, also known as Red Flag conditions.
Simply put, it’s illegal to have a fire on days with humidity under 25% and wind speeds that exceed 15 miles per hour. Both conditions have to be met for the fire to be illegal.
“Once we explain it, people are understanding it pretty well – they appreciate that there are times to burn when the conditions are right,” Klabunde said.
The Texas A&M Forest Service projected wildfire activity to gradually increase into the weekend – thanks to above normal temperatures, high winds and low humidity across West and South Texas.
A prolonged period of accelerated drying Wednesday through Sunday will expand the area of dry to extremely dry vegetation across the landscape and will continue to support wildfire activity through the weekend.
In addition to the more than 300 firefighters from Texas A&M Forest Service, more than 170 Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) firefighters as well as personnel from 28 states have been mobilized to assist with response efforts.
Thirty-three aircraft, including three large airtankers, 15 single engine air tankers, seven type 1 and type 3 helicopters, are also staged across the state for wildfire response.
Since Jan. 1 through Tuesday, the Forest Service and local fire departments had responded to 3,018 wildfires that burned 403,711 acres. This total includes 978 wildfires in the month of March that burned 348,403 acres.
Klabunde said although the ban in effect during Red Flag Days has been affective, commissioners might consider issuing one Thursday, as the county’s Keetch-Byram Drought Index nears the 500-point threshold.
The KBDI determines forest fire potential based on daily water balance, where a drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture. It assigns 100 points to each inch of dry soil depth, up to a maximum capacity of eight inches, or 800 points.
Klabunde said the KBDI isn’t helpful in accurately measuring that severity during the winter, which typically need spring rains to restore dead grass above ground and dead roots underneath.
Since Monday through Friday, county’s KBDI average only climbed from 378 to 404. At that rate, Klabunde said it could take quite a while to eclipse the 500-point average usually required to set burn bans. The last countywide ban ended in October.
New Braunfels Utilities officials warned residents last week that New Braunfels and surrounding communities could enter Stage 2 watering restrictions as the Edwards Aquifer continues to drop near the trigger of 650 feet above mean sea level. The utility implemented Stage 1 restrictions on March 10.
While there have been smaller blazes, the lone major grass fire occurred March 14. A fast-moving blaze consumed eight acres and threatened the Mission Valley Ranch subdivision before several agencies, including planes from the Forest Service, brought it under control.
Since March 5, New Braunfels firefighters have quelled 21 grass fires, including four since April 1.
According to David Ferguson, city communications coordinator, those blazes occurred April 2 in the 300 block of Landa; two on April 4, in the 1400 block of Farm-to-Market Road 758 and 1800 block of Business 35, and one Wednesday in the 1800 block of Pahmeyer Road.
Any burn ban remains in effect for 90 days, or until lifted by County Judge Sherman Krause. Although scofflaws face fines up to $500, no tickets or warnings have been issued in the county, which in these cases usually prefer education over citation.