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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Long, hot summer leaves OC in fire danger

 

Last updated 8/1/2023 at 4:53pm

Keetch-Byram Drought Index map

As the temperature at the Orange County Airport reached 102 degrees Tuesday afternoon, the dryness level for fire hazard has reached the near the top level, with Orange County Emergency Management Director Joel Ardoin calls "the danger zone."

And not only do people need to be concerned about the dry level, the temperatures are soaring to record highs. The U.S. Weather Service reported a day record high of 101 in Beaumont on Monday, a record set in 1902. The weather service out of Lake Charles is predicting heat indices for the rest of the week could reach 116.

This past Friday, Ardoin issued a burn ban for Orange County, as did the adjoining Jefferson County. Jasper and Newton counties on the north border of Orange County have had burn bans for the past few weeks.

Ardoin said that in the past few days, the county has had only a couple of brush fires that covered a few acres, but nothing major.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor issued on July 27 had the county in the "severe drought" stage. The readings are taken on Tuesdays and this week's high temperatures and no measurable rain could send the rating to the red zone of "extreme drought."

Even though scattered thunderstorms moved across the county Monday evening, little rain fell. No rain was recorded at the U.S. Weather Service's gauge at the county airport. Some places reported enough rain to wet the patio, but not enough to wet the concrete under the patio table and chairs. Though one resident in Orange said he measured a fourth of an inch, most people watched in frustration as no rain fell on their lawns.

Still, the clouds and wind cooled the temperatures off quickly. The past week has brought night temperatures down into the 70s. For a couple of weeks in July, the night temperatures were not dropping below the mid-80s.

Concerning the wild fire dangers, Texas A&M Forestry monitors the Keetch-Byram Drought Index to measure in the ground down to eight inches to determine forest fire danger. The daily map on Tuesday showed much of Orange County reading at 686, near the 700 mark, one of the most dangerous.

Ardoin said Orange County and Southeast Texas aren't alone in the drought. Most of the state is now facing fire hazard levels.

The burn bans mean no outdoor burning, though most of the cities have ordinances prohibiting outside burning. Violating the ban could lead to a citation and fine, Ardoin said. However, if someone's illegal burning starts a brush or forest fire that requires the Texas Forest Service to bring in special equipment like brush trucks, the person could also face state penalties.

Ardoin said the law enforcement agents with the state forest service are now accompanying the agency's firefighters to issue tickets for those started unlawfully.

The Texas Forest Service advises people to be careful even with barbecue grills. Even a hot exhaust pipe on a pickup truck can ignite dry grass.

The Forest Service tips include:

Always obey local burn bans and outdoor burning restrictions. Wait to conduct any outdoor burning or light campfires until the burn ban has been lifted and weather conditions improve.

Nine out of 10 wildfires are human caused. When a burn ban is in place, residents should avoid outdoor activities that may cause a spark, including welding, grinding and using heavy machinery.

Many areas of Texas are experiencing high temperatures and dry weather. Residents should stay up to date on weather conditions and always use extreme caution when performing outdoor activities even if not under a burn ban.

And if the heat and fire danger aren't enough to worry about, peak hurricane season begins in August and runs through September. Record temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and an El Nino current, which makes the water even warmer, could elevate the water temperatures. That could lead to more intense storms.

 

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