Burn ban in place for Austin County

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County commissioners last week approved an outdoor burn ban and discussed the sheriff’s department budget.

The burn ban is effective until further notice from commissioners. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, local governments can enact a burn ban for public safety purposes when drought conditions exist. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index shows that Austin County is in the 400-500 range where “wildfire intensity begins to increase significantly. Wildfires will readily burn and larger fuels could burn or smolder for several days. This is often seen in late summer and early fall.”

The KBDI attempts to measure the amount of precipitation needed to bring the top eight inches of soil back to saturation. Zero represents complete soil saturation or no moisture deficiency; an index of 800 means it would take eight inches of precipitation to fully saturate the soil. 800 is the maximum drought that is possible, according to information provided by the Forest Service.

“Up until last week, things were going pretty well and then we had a few people who don’t understand the meaning of controlled burns,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Randy Reichardt. “We had three fires last week. When it’s a fire alongside the road, the burn ban doesn’t help that. When it’s a tractor fire in a hay patch, the burn ban doesn’t help that. But when someone has a burn pile and they walk off and leave it because they got thirsty or something else, that’s when we need it.”

Reichardt’s motion was unanimously approved, and the county’s text messaging system issued a countywide notification.

In other matters, Sheriff Jack Brandes reviewed his department’s need for new vehicles and said they are providing a cost savings of about $655,000 that can be returned to county coffers.

The purchase of seven vehicles will cost about $300,750.

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