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Grass fires top Victoria Fire Department's response call list

By Gheni_Platenburg
July 3, 2010 at 2:03 a.m.

Since 1997, Victoria's Fire Department has responded to 3,105 grass fires. So far this year,  it has only responded to 94 calls.

BUILDING AND MOTOR VEHICLE FIRE PREVENTION TIPS

Empty hot barbecue coals

Clean dryer lint trays

Keep flammable liquids away from gas heaters

Make sure smoke detectors have fresh, working batteries

Get regular maintenance checks on your car

Don't throw cigarette butts outside of window, instead keep them in a closed container in your vehicle until they can disposed of properly

Provided by Victoria Fire Department

TREE, GRASS, BRUSH AND TRASH FIRE PREVENTION TIPS

Always use a burn barrel with a screen

When in a severe drought, do not burn anything

Don't burn on a windy day

When burning, always have a garden hose or water buckets handy.

Never burn trash unattended

Remember it is illegal to burn trash within city limits

Provided by Victoria Fire DepartmentDROUGHT INDEX

Most fire departments, including the Victoria Fire Department, determine the presence of a drought using the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which reflects water gain or loss within the soil.

The KBDI is measured on a scale of 0, indicating no drought, to 800, indicating extreme drought.

Last summer when the area was in a severe drought, firefighters responded almost daily to grass fires.

Some days they were called to more than one at a time.

So it is no surprise that tree, brush and grass fires continue to top the list of fire response calls for the Victoria Fire Department.

"Predominately, this is a problem in the summertime when the vegetation tends to dry out," said Victoria Fire Chief Vance Riley.

Since 1997, the department has responded to more than 3,105 grass, brush and trash fires, according to combined City of Victoria and Victoria County data.

Last year, the department responded to 167 grass fire calls. So far this year - are more normal one in terms of precipitation - the grass fire calls total 94.

Until this past week, the area was getting dry, but not to dangerous drought conditions as experienced last year.

"Our drought index is in the green. In other words it's in the 400-500 range, and that is good," said Riley. "Once it starts getting over 500 is when you start having grass fires."

Preventing fires

Because area grass is susceptible to catching fire, Victoria Fire Marshal John Bradley said grass fires could be started by something as serious as lightning or by something simpler like flicking a cigarette out of a car window.

Additionally, he said, vehicles with dragging equipment could also trigger grass fires.

"If you are pulling trailers through town, make sure any straps they have are securely buckled because they can cause sparks if they are dragging," Bradley said.

"I think people are more understanding of how fires start and are wanting to learn more about how to prevent them," said Bradley. "Sometimes things happen. There's not much you can do about it, unfortunately."

As far as arson in the area is concerned, Riley said, it accounts for less than 1 percent of fires.

Quick response

The fire department's data showed for the years 2005 through 2009 the average response time by the department to a grass and/or brush fire anywhere in Victoria County outside the city limits is 15 minutes 21 seconds.

Response time is defined as the time from when the fire department is alerted by the 911 dispatcher of a fire until the time the first unit arrives on the scene, said Riley.

Although he could not give a breakdown of how much it costs to put out each different category of fire, Riley said every time a fire truck pulls out of the station it costs between $200 and $400, depending on the number of firefighters on the truck and the materials used to put out the fire.

Building and vehicle fires

Structure/building and motor vehicle fires followed second and third in the top response calls list, according to VFD data also from 1997 through present.

Building/structure fires, which include both the actual building being on fire and fires that take place within the building, totaled 1,526, while motor vehicles fires totaled 1,089.

Although these numbers may appear jarring to some, Riley said, there is nothing to be alarmed about.

"For a city our size, our numbers are very comparable to other cities," said Riley.

Although Victoria is within normal response call parameters, Riley said, things could always be better.

"We'd like to not go to any calls, that would be a great success," he said.

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