By Michael V. Hannigan
ATHENS – The burn ban in Henderson County remains in effect, but the end may be in sight.
Tuesday morning, Henderson County Fire Marshal Darrell Furrh told Commissioners’ Court the
Keetch-Bynum Keetch-Byram Drought Index score in the county had dropped to 626, the lowest it has been in months. The index goes to a high of 800 and the county had been knocking on that ceiling for weeks prior to the recent rains.
Another good sign is that more rain is forecast for late in the week.
But Furrh reminded commissioners that a burn ban is normally initiated when the index hits 575, and Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Geeslin pointed out that the current score is still higher than when the burn ban was started in April.
“We should not lift the burn ban at this time,” said Furrh. “We can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but not yet.”
One commissioner disagreed: Pct. 3 Commissioner Ronny Lawrence, who voted against extending the ban. Although he had no comments on the issue this week, Lawrence questioned the accuracy of the drought index last week. On several occasions, he has talked about the need for local ranchers to burn brush and feed bags.
The other commissioners, however, were convinced by Furrh’s statistics, which included:
- Officially, only between 13 and 16 inches of rain this year in Henderson County;
- Records show county has had less rain than in the “historic” 1980 drought;
- 229 counties in Texas still under burn bans;
- Only one of the neighboring counties (Anderson) has raised its ban.
In addition, officials were concerned that lifting the burn ban could negatively effect emergency assistance coming to the county from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
According to Emergency Management Coordinator Joy Kimbrough, the county’s fire departments are eligible, all together, for $676,000 in FEMA reimbursements based on their activity between Aug. 30 and Oct. 4. Kimbrough said that reimbursement eligibility continues, but could get cut off if the county ends the burn ban while still in drought conditions.
Another concern is the consensus that the Texas drought is not going to end any time soon.
Texas State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon has written, “I’ve started telling anyone who’s interested that it’s likely that much of Texas will still be in severe drought this time next summer, with water supply implications even worse than those we are now experiencing.”
Commissioners extended the burn ban for two weeks, but left open the option of revisiting the question next Tuesday if there is extended rain.
Ignoring the burn ban is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.
Here is a link to the complete burn ban ordinance.