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Wildfire threat on the increase

By DAVID TEWES
Aug. 27, 2010 at 3:27 a.m.

PrayGoes with Dt_FireDanger_012209

How dry is it out there?The Keetch-Byram Drought Index for most of Victoria County has risen above 500 and the 14-day outlook calls for it to be between 600 and 700.

Readings of 400 to 600 are typical of late summer, early fall. Litter and layers of partially decayed organic materials contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively.

Readings of 600 to 800 are associated with more severe drought and with increased wildfire occurrences. Intense, deep-burning fires are possible.

The threat of wildfires in Victoria County is increasing and one fire official said he's noticing a trend he doesn't like.

"Two weeks ago, we might have had one or two grass fires during the day," said Ron Pray, Victoria County's fire marshal. "Now we're getting three or four or in some cases six."

He said the typical summer heat and lack of rainfall are beginning to kill off the vegetation that grew when rainfall was more plentiful earlier this year. That provides the fuel for wildfires, he said.

Matt Grantham, with the National Weather Service, said he doesn't see any relief in sight.

"There's going to be a chance of showers coming up this weekend and next week," he said. "But it's not going to be real widespread."

Pray hasn't yet asked the commissioners court to enact a ban on outdoor burning. But, he said, the conditions are getting worse and things could get serious within a couple of weeks.

The 14-day outlook from the Texas Forest Service indicates Victoria County could be seeing an increase in wildfires, with intense, deep-burning fires.

"People are still doing what they were doing two months ago, not realizing that things have changed" Pray said. "We have more flammability in our organic materials."

Most of the recent fires have been caused by people burning trash or brush. They get distracted with yard work or something else and before they know it, they have a grass fire, he said.

Pray said people should do their burning in barrels that are covered with a screen mesh. Even then, they should pay attention to it, he said.

"I want people to be aware of the conditions," he said. "Fires can get out of hand very quickly if they're not careful."

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