Lack of Rain Increases Outdoor Fire Risk

Harris County, Texas – August 5th, 2015: Harris County is approaching a critical drought threshold that increases outdoor fire danger for the first time this year.

The Keetch Byram Drought Index (KBDI) measures rainfall deficits on a scale of 1-800 with 800 being the worst case, representing a need for approximately eight inches of rain to fully saturate the ground. Any reading above 600 represents higher fire danger, while readings of 700 or more represent extreme fire danger. On August 4th, the average drought index across Harris County reached 582, the highest value this year. Some areas of far south Harris County registered readings as high as 651 on the KBDI index. Outdoor fire activity remains in the moderate range, but a lack of rain over the next two weeks could increase the fire potential risk from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’. An average KBDI of 400 – 600 is typical of late summer and early fall. As KBDI and temperatures increase, the number of outdoor fires begins to increase, and dry fuels contribute to fire intensity and burn actively. An average KBDI reading of 600 – 800 is often associated with more severe drought and higher risk of outdoor fires. These readings often lead to increased number of intense, deep-burning fires that can burn actively and spread rapidly.

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No burn ban, but officials urge caution when burning outdoors

Residents are reminded that most outdoor burning is prohibited year round in unincorporated areas of the county, with a few exceptions. Refuse from commercial businesses may not be burned at any time. Most cities prohibit all burning or have special restrictions in place. “We’re headed into late summer and people should be cautious about any outdoor burning activities,” said Harris County Fire Marshal Mike Montgomery. “The worst time to burn is late afternoon — between 3 and 6 PM — the hottest and driest period of the day.” Montgomery urges people to wait until it’s cooler and there is more moisture in the air, and to keep any outdoor fire attended, with a water hose or other means to keep a fire from escaping or spreading. Montgomery emphasized that if you see an unattended fire, call 9-1-1 and notify your local fire department immediately. Even a small fire can spread quickly in dry fuel, and as our area continues to dry out, heavier fuels such as trees and downed timber can be ignited more easily, and take more effort to extinguish. As the average drought index creeps up near 650, we can also expect much more erratic fire behavior, especially on windy days with low humidity.

 

46 Texas counties have enacted burn bans

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.27.11 PMAcross the State, 46 Texas counties have enacted burn bans; the closest counties to Harris County are Grimes County and Walker County. Conditions are not to the point in Harris County where a burn ban would be recommended, but could reach that point soon unless there is significant rainfall over the next few weeks, could reach that point soon. County fire officials are closely monitoring conditions to determine if additional action is needed. The largest wildfire to strike this area in recent history began on Labor Day in 2011 when high winds whipped up a fire that eventually consumed 20,000 acres in Grimes, Waller, and Montgomery counties, destroying over 100 homes and buildings. That same year, Harris County experienced more than 1,400 outdoors fires that burned 6,400 acres and threatened 560 homes and other structures. The average drought index reached 670 on May 19; the highest average KBDI reading on record for Harris County — 747 — was reached on June 21.

To list a fire safety hazard or request additional information online regarding the burn ban, please visit our website: www.hcfmo.net For additional information regarding drought and wildfire safety tips, visit: Texas Forest Service

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