Dry conditions, low humidity cause grass fires
Very little rain and low humidity contributed to over 10 grass fires last week in Gillespie County. And conditions may not improve.
“Just on Wednesday (Jan. 24) we had five grass fires,” Gillespie County Fire Marshal Steve Olfers said. “The extremely low humidity has caused some of these issues.”
In the last week the humidity across the county has been below 30 percent, which causes perfect fire conditions. On Wednesday, it was below 15 percent.
“Historically, when conditions get this dry, we see more fires,” Fredericksburg Fire Chief Lynn Bizzell said.
Bizzell said he hasn’t seen a fire season like this since 2011.
According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, conditions are not improving.
“In the past 30 days, the last significant rainfall we saw was just after Christmas,” a spokesman of the Texas A&M Forest Service said. “The fast-moving fronts are only producing low to moderate amounts of moisture in a short amount of time.”
This can also be contributed to La Niña, a weather pattern that brings dryer than normal conditions in the Southwest.
Brush and trash piles and roadside starts from cigarettes, flat tires or dragging chains have just been some the causes of recent fires.
“It only takes a second for a fire to ignite, so don’t leave the area where you are burning because it can spread fast,” Bizzell said. “The vegetation around you should also be mowed down in case the fire is to spread.”
In the past week, three grass fires have been roadside starts, Bizzell said.
In addition to the weather being a major factor, home heating and freezing pipes have been giving homeowners problems.
“The cold can create one of two things — when something gets too hot and thaws, it catches fire or the pipes burst and cause flooding,” Bizzell said. “It also dries the vegetation out and makes it like a tinder box.”
Unlike the weather, there are many things citizens can do to prevent fires.
“One of the most important things is to contact dispatch because they monitor winds and humidity. So if you are burning, they can make sure it’s safe,” Olfers said.
Those who weld should also be conscious and have a spotter and water while welding.
Olfers and Bizzell also suggest not driving into high grass, not throwing cigarettes out and not lighting fireworks.
If citizens choose to cook outside, they should be careful and make sure all coals have been extinguished.
While there is no burn ban in effect in Gillespie County, discussions are in the works between the six county departments.
“We bring the burn issue up every time we meet as a group but in the past month, discussions have become more heartfelt,” Olfers said. “We understand that burning is a very necessary thing, but we have to take this seriously and be cognizant of safety.”
The conversation has moved to the County Judge’s office where a final decision will made.
Many resources are available to homeowners on burning as well as keeping up to date on weather conditions.
“Utilize these resources when it comes to outdoor burning,” Olfers said.