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Burn ban extended through September

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Last Tuesday afternoon, a burn ban was issued to prohibit all outdoor burning in Bastrop County, which was extended for the next six weeks during Monday’s commissioners’ court meeting.

On August 6, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape issued a burn ban due to consecutive days of hot weather and decreased moisture, effective that day at 3 p.m for seven days. As of the ordering of the burn ban, the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is a numerical scale of drought conditions taking into account rainfall, air temperatures and other meteorological factors, was 508 to the southwest and 665 to the northeast, according to a press release announcing the burn ban. The county-wide average was 596 last Tuesday, a seven-point increase from the day before. A measure between 600 and 800 is associated with extreme drought and increased wildfire occurrence, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“With forecasts of continued hot, dry weather, the time has come to stop all outdoor burning in the county until such time as the climatic conditions improve to the extent that the risk of wildfire is diminished,” the press release said.

While the burn ban is in effect, ignition of any combustible or vegetative material outside of an enclosure which serves to contain a fire is prohibited. A person responsible for a fire in violation of the burn ban order would be issued a citation; violating the order is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.

On Monday, the court voted to extend the burn ban until September 23 on the recommendation of Brad Ellis, deputy director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. Ellis said conditions have not improved, and conditions are expected to continue for the next few days.

If conditions have not improved by September 23, which falls on a planned commissioners’ court meeting, the court can extend the burn ban. The order could be lifted if the county receives a torrential amount of rain, Pape added.

Ellis reported multiple house fires, including a major house fire near the Williamson County Line, and a few relatively small fires throughout the county. He also said there were three major fires along State Highway 71 caused by vehicles. Pape added they suspect a vehicle was dragging a chain on the highway, causing a spark.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mel Hamner remarked one fire on Highway 71 coincided with an area of fuel mitigation efforts.

“That fuel mitigation may have saved another forest fire,” Pape responded.