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Fires show why burn ban needed

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Managing Editor

WAXAHACHIE - Ignorance isn't bliss for Ellis County firefighters who increasingly are braving100-degree temperatures to battle wildfires started by people who claim they didn't know better.

When caught, people can wiggle off the hook by saying they have not heard about the recent Commissioners Court order prohibiting improper outdoor burning.

According to the court-approved 90-day ban, 'a person violates this order if he knowingly or intentionally burns any combustible material outside of an enclosure which serves to contain all flames and/or sparks, or orders such burning by others.'

Ignorance of the law, in this instance, is an acceptable excuse.

After firefighters extinguish a blaze, the order calls for a police officer to investigate and tell the person responsible for starting the fire about the ban, noting the instance in the dispatcher's log.

'At the discretion of the peace officer and/or fire chief, second or flagrant violations of this order may be prosecuted in accordance with state law,' the ban says. The potential penalty is a Class C misdemeanor to be decided in Justice of the Peace Court.

Escaped sparks are the leading cause of wildfires, according to the Texas Forest Service. More than 90 percent of all Texas wildfires is caused by people making mistakes with burning materials.

Residents should be well aware of the burning ban since Ellis County had one last summer when drought produced similar tinderbox conditions. County conditions are no better this summer, despite June's rain.

Wildfire alerts are being sounded across the state, especially by the Texas Forest Service. Ellis County is among 87 counties that have implemented burn bans this summer. Of Texas' 254 counties, 127 are considered high hazard risks for wildfires, with 68 counties ranked as extremely dangerous.

'The state is currently drier than this time last year when we experienced a severe late summer and fall fire season,' said Tom Spencer, fire risk assessment coordinator with the Texas Forest Service.

To prevent wildfires, extinguish cigarettes in vehicle ashtrays rather than toss them out the window. Motorists also are urged to be careful when driving through fields or stopping beside the road because hot catalytic converters can ignite dry vegetation.

Several recent wildfires reportedly resulted from hay baling and the use of spark-producing equipment around rapidly drying vegetation. Statistics show 99 percent of hay-bailing fires are caused when bearings going out.

Officials recommend inspecting balers for hotspots every 25 bales and keeping a large capacity fire extinguisher mounted on each side. Most of all, they say, have someone with keep an eye on the baler while you are in the field. The key is to catch the problem quickly and not allow the fire to grow out of hand.

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