No more warnings: S.O. to issue tickets for burn ban violations

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, July 7, 2018
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With a burn ban still in place due to an elevated fire risk, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said his department is no longer issuing warnings for violations.

Between June 29 and 7 a.m. Thursday morning, Wise County fire departments responded to 74 calls for fires and fought 32 fires. The county received 259 fireworks violations calls.

On the evening of July 4th, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office dispatch received 150 calls about fireworks. The office had 212 total calls on Wednesday.

The volume of calls overwhelmed the department’s 15 phone lines and the four dispatchers, according to Sheriff Lane Akin. The 911 system remained up and running.

“We have 15 ports coming in, and the four dispatchers we had on [Wednesday] night couldn’t keep up because of the number of calls,” Akin said. “With all 15 filled, there were some people on hold that were dropped. We had some complaints from people saying they were hung up on, but that was not the case. The system dropped them. We’re trying to upgrade the call system.”

Due to the number of calls, Akin advised his patrol commanders Thursday to start writing citations for any burn ban violations, including fireworks.

“It was my position to warn people and seek compliance,” Akin said. “But the warnings are over.”

The fine for a violation of the burn ban is up to $500. A fire that damages property belonging to another property owner is also punishable with a $500 fine and court ordered restitution. Outdoor burning that results in death, injury or damages a building belonging to another may result in two years in state jail, a fine up to $10,000 and court ordered restitution. There may also be additional criminal and civil liability.

Of the 32 fires that firefighters fought in the last week, Wise County Fire Marshal Jeff Doughty said most were small. The largest was the 10-acre blaze Sunday at County Road 4790 and Hamm Road south of Keeter started by a burn pit.

“I can’t say enough about the awesome work of [the fire departments],” Doughty said. “Most had around the clock staffing at the stations during peak times. Trucks were responding instantaneously to calls.”

Currently, the burn ban is on days the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth issues a Red Flag warning or designates as a “high risk or elevated fire risk” day. An elevated fire risk has been present in the county for the past week due to temperatures in the mid- to upper-90s, lower humidity and steady winds above 10 mph.

Most of the county is in severe drought, according to the latest update from the USDA Thursday. In the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures wildfire potential by taking into account the soil moisture, the county was at an average of 643 Thursday. The high in the county was 694. The index goes to 800, which represents completely dry conditions.

Wise County this year set a new record for the lowest rainfall amount in the month of June. According to weather watcher Doyle Green in Decatur, rainfall totaled 0.31 of an inch for the month. The previous low for June was 0.45 in 1977, according to records dating back to 1974.

We recorded seven days of 100 degrees or more, and our average high temperature for the month was 96.8 degrees. Since 2010, the average high temperature for June has been 90 degrees.

For the year, Wise County has received 11.81 inches of rain. The average rainfall for the first six months of the year is 21 inches.

As conditions worsen this summer, Doughty said he will be visiting with Wise County commissioners about issuing a new burn ban.

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