Wild land fire prevention starts now

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

Since January 1, 2020, over 3,330 wildfires have burned over 171,000 acres of land in Texas. Of these wildfires, 902 fires were the result of debris burning. Those 902 fires burned a total of 10,994 acres of land. The latest wild land fire was the Putnam Mountain Wildfire in Llano County that burned approximately 222 acres on November 21.

Texas A&M Agrilife Fire Danger Map

Cold winter air tends to have less humidity than hot, summer air. With all of west Texas experiencing some level of drought, wild land fires can burn parched land quickly.

There are a number of measures local farmers and ranchers can take to lessen the chances of a wild land fire occurring on their land or even to lessen the effects if one does ignite. They can also help reduce the chances of damage occurring to their homes and other structures. “Our farmers and ranchers out here in the county are pretty good at taking steps to prevent wild land fires,” pointed out Ballinger fire department captain Robert Langston for our article in January.

Langston says that prescribed burns can help prevent uncontrolled wild land fires, “The prescribed burns are important. They clear out a lot of the fuel that fires would need in a wild land fire.” Most burns are conducted mid to late spring, or in the fall. Burning to favor desired grasses should take place just as they are starting to green up, and the soil surface is damp. In winter the weather typically has low humidity and the dead vegetation can quickly ignite and get out of control, which is why most are done in the fall, before everything dries up or in the spring, as everything is turning green. High humidity can keep prescribed burns moving slowly so that they are more effective. A slow-moving burn will burn deeper and more completely, removing the fuel for wild fires.

Taking measures now to prevent wild land fires during our typically dry summer begin now.

Summer saw below-average rainfall, just as autumn has thus far. The lack of moisture negates the possibility of prescribed burns until early spring.

While it's important to keep land cleared to reduce the speed and spread of wild land fires, it's even more important to keep areas around homes and structures cleared. Barns, sheds and homes can burn in a matter of minutes when there is fuel, such as dead limbs or leaves, close to the structure.

The website, www.ReadyForWildfire.org lays out the area for clearing land close to the homes. They break the zones down into zones.

According to the website, Zone 1 "Extends 30' from buildings, structures, decks, etc." This zone includes: Removing all dead plants, grass and weeds; Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters; Removed dead branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10' away from your chimney; Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10' from other trees; Relocated wood piles to Zone 2; Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows; Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks; Create separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.

Defensible Space, Zone 1, from www.readyforwildfire.org

Zone 2 extends 100' out from buildings, structures, decks, etc and includes: Cutting or mowing annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches; Creating horizontal spaces between shrubs and trees; Creating vertical spaces between grass, shrubs and trees; Removing fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches.

The website suggests removing all tree branches at least 6' from the ground, as well as allowing extra vertical space between shrubs and trees, "Lack of vertical space can allow a fire to move from the ground to the brush to the treetops like a ladder."

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Danger Map, the majority of Texas is under a moderate threat of wildfires. More information can be found on the TFS website at: https://texashelp.tamu.edu. The website offers guidance on preparing a response to wild land fires in advance, "When wildfires are approaching your property or you see smoke on the horizon, the situation can become chaotic. Preparing for wildfire response ahead of time is one of the most important steps a landowner can take. Correctly identifying property at risk, resources avail-able, and existing wildfire barriers can greatly enhance the effectiveness of first responders. Preparation can also improve overall communication when making critical fire decisions. The following are general recommendations for information you need to have ready before wild-fire response teams arrive. It can also be very helpful to discuss the questions below with your local volunteer fire department." The website goes on to state, "You should develop ranch guidelines and information for first responders that are specific to your property. The answers to the questions below will be instrumental in building operations, tactics, and general firefighting techniques. A carefully thought out wildfire ready check-list is an excellent foundation for improved communication and relationship building during wildfires."

Christmas fire safety

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), 1/3 of all Christmas fires are started by candles and 2 out of every 5 fires caused by decorations are caused because the decorations were placed too close to heat sources.

Other tips from the NFPA: Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant; Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn; Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both; Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections; Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect; Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged;  Keep decorations away from windows and doors; Holiday entertaining; Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan; Keep children and pets away from lit candles; Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet; Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop; Ask smokers to smoke outside; Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them; Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers; Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding.