Victoria fire marshal warns about illegal burns

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Feb. 21, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 20, 2014 at 8:21 p.m.

Kitchen garbage, branch trimmings and cardboard are fair game when it comes to outdoor burning.

Fire Marshal Ron Pray warns it's the other materials - tires, construction debris, furniture and carpet - that can land Victoria residents in jail.

"I have arrested people for burning," he said.

It's not an everyday occasion, but it happens a couple times a year when the situation is dramatic or the person has already been warned.

Pray is spearheading an education campaign to get the word out about what residents can and can't do when it comes to fire.

"People really need to be careful when they're burning," Pray said.

He said people should only start fires between sunrise and sunset and only when the wind is slower than 23 mph.

Fires should be kept downwind or at least 300 feet from structures. Most importantly, the fire should be constantly monitored, and water should be kept available.

Pray points to a recent event that involved a county resident who set a pasture on fire and almost burned up his neighbor's property Tuesday when a fire got out of control.

"Luckily, the fire department got in there quickly and knocked it out," Pray said. "It could have been bad. People could have lost their homes, trailers and property."

Had that been the case, the man would have been charged with reckless arson, which includes a possible $500 fine.

Arson that has intent includes a possible fine up to $10,000.

The person responsible for a burn remains liable for damages, injuries or other consequences that may result from burning, even when it is carried out in compliance with state regulations.

Pray said the county's Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is used to determine forest fire potential on a scale of 0 to 800, is at 492.

"When it gets to be at 500, that's when we start focusing on it," he said.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, fire danger in Victoria is considered "moderate" but is considered "extreme" around Odessa.

Christina Barron, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Victoria has some slight chances of rain going into early next week. However, she said not to expect a "bountiful rain."

Victoria is still under a severe drought according to the drought monitor, Barron said.

The Climate Prediction Center is looking toward a possible El Nino this summer, which usually brings a little higher rain chances, she said.

Pray said he will meet with property owners one on one to advise them about safe burning.

"We'd rather go out and talk to them than they go out and do it on their own and get in trouble," Pray said.



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