Ellis County issues outdoor burn ban

Chris Roark
Waxahachie Daily Light
Dry conditions caused a grass fire in Alma to spread quickly last week. The Ellis County Commissioners Court approved a 90-day outdoor burn ban Tuesday.

The Ellis County Commissioners on Tuesday approved an outdoor burn ban for unincorporated portions of the county.

The ban, which went into effect at 6 p.m. Tuesday, is for 90 days, but the order could be lifted sooner if the Commissioners Court determines that the conditions no longer create a safety hazard.

According to the order, violators will commit a Class C misdemeanor and will be subject to a fine up to $500.

The ban comes as drought conditions continue in Ellis County and across the region.

Tim Birdwell, Ellis County fire marshal, said the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which uses a scale of 0 to 800 to assess drought conditions, began reaching concerning levels in Ellis County. Ellis County’s minimum index for Tuesday was 427, its maximum was 591, and its average is 507.

"When the max gets above 500, I look at considering a burn ban," Birdwell said Wednesday. "In addition, I also start hearing a lot of the fire departments going out on grass fires. In our case, presently all the grasses are dormant and very dry." 

On Jan. 18, a grass fire at Grays Creek, just east of Interstate 45 and north of Whitfill Road in Alma, burned 447.6 acres, threatening several homes nearby. Officials say the fire began after someone started burning trash on the ground.

“Grass fires increased throughout the county everywhere,” Birdwell said.

According to the order, there are a few exceptions to the ban, including domestic waste burning – kitchen garbage, grass, leaves and branch trimmings – as long as certain precautions are taken.

The items must be kept within an enclosed single receptacle to contain the flames. The burn can occur no earlier than one hour after sunrise and no later than one hour before sunset, and it must be within the same day. A responsible party must be present, and it must occur clear of vegetation. Fire suppression equipment must be present.

Prohibited items include tires, construction debris, electrical wires, furniture, appliances and carpet.

Other exceptions to the burn ban include outdoor cooking, but the cooking device must use propane, natural gas, wood or charcoal and has a complete enclosure that is used at all times. The device must be clear of vegetation and combustible materials. Fire suppression equipment must be available.

Domestic waste burning, welding, cutting and grinding are not permissible during Red Flag Warning Days issued by the National Weather Service.