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Pro: Burn bans save property, lives

By chirst
Aug. 25, 2013 at 3:25 a.m.

Skye Surman, 15, stands in the portion of her yard that was burned when a neighbor's backyard fire spread to her yard  Aug. 13. The teenager reacted quickly and kept the fire at bay with a garden hose while waiting for firefighters to arrive. Her actions saved the family's chicken coop, which is filled with hay and would have ignited quickly.

The 15-year-old was home alone and doing the dishes when she noticed smoke in the backyard.

Skye Surman, a petite sophomore at Liberty Academy, ran outside while calling her mom, Michelle Surman, who was at work in Victoria.

Skye found a grass fire creeping up on the family's home - only a few feet away from the chicken coop filled with hay bales.

She told her mom to call 911 and then ran for a water hose, hanging up on her frantic mother.

"My car had wings," Surman said about her 15-minute drive to Nursery to get to her daughter. "I just kind of panicked."

Skye, meanwhile, attacked the fire nearest the house with the water hose, trying to steer the fire toward the road until the fire department arrived.

"The flames were a little less than my knees, and it was spreading across the whole yard. ... It was pretty fast," Skye said, adding she could feel the heat from the flames as she stood only a couple feet away.

Victoria and volunteer fire departments arrived and put out the fire, which threatened three homes.

The cause of the fire was a neighbor burning brush, said Victoria County Fire Marshal Ron Pray. The neighbor left the fire unattended, and it got out of control.

No burn ban was in effect in Victoria County on Aug. 13, when Skye had to fight the fire, but county officials enacted one the next day.

Skye thinks if there had been a burn ban in place, she wouldn't have had to risk her life that day because her neighbor should not have been burning on the ground or would have had to burn in a barrel.

Under a burn ban, even if their neighbor had decided to burn, he could have been cited for the illegal act, said Surman. But then, there were no consequences for the irresponsible burning.

"It is a necessary evil, so to speak. Sometimes, it has to be done because if you have conditions where that fire can get out of hand very quickly and burn your neighbor's house up, you have to step in and make sure the public is protected," Pray said.

Pray said the county is careful about when it enacts burn bans, but sometimes, they are necessary for public safety.

"I don't even like the burn ban. I would love for - in a perfect world - for everyone to burn safely, attend their fires at all times and for no problems to occur. But that is a dream, and it is never going to happen," Pray said.

John Godinez, who lives in Victoria County, said while burn bans could infringe on private property rights, safety is a more important right to secure.

"You have to have rules for the safety of everyone. People burning in a burn ban could violate my right of safety, even their own right of safety," Godinez said.

He said county officials are responsible and know when to put the bans in place.

Surman said she wishes a ban would have been in place the day of the fire. Maybe her neighbor would have thought again before burning or maybe he would have taken extra precautions.

"Had she been asleep,'' Surman said of her daughter, "there is no telling what the outcome would be, and I don't even want to think about it."

Con: Burn bans penalize everyone, violate rights



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