Acting on the recommendation of Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott, Parker County commissioners approved a county-wide burn ban, 3-2, during a regular session Monday.
Judge Mark Riley and commissioners George Conley and Craig Peacock voted in favor of the ban. Commissioners John Roth and Dusty Renfro voted against.
The ban, which prohibits all outdoor burning — with conditional exceptions for professional welders — is in place for 30 days. It will expire at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 22 unless it is renewed or withdrawn by the court.
Scott said the county has begun to dry out quickly in the last few weeks, based on values from the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. The index showed an average reading for the county of 615 Sunday, he said, compared with a 300 to 350 range earlier in the summer.
In a written update presented to the court, Scott said the dry areas were chiefly in Precinct 2, with the most moisture in Precinct 4.
“The number of grass fires in Parker County has begun to increase in the last couple weeks,” Scott said. “Fire behavior has become more aggressive during the same time frame.
“While we have had rainfall during the month of July, evaporation of that moisture has occurred very quickly.”
There was no discussion of the issue prior to the vote.
Renfro, who voted against the burn ban, said later that he did so because it is a private property rights issue. Such bans should be limited to extreme conditions, he said, like the lengthy drought the county suffered last year.
“It’s almost like the court is telling the private citizen that they’re smarter than they are,” Renfro said. “I have faith in the average citizen.”
Renfro said the fire marshal tends to be conservative when it comes to recommending the burn ban.
“As I’m driving through Precinct 4 right now, the grass is green, and it looks lush,” he said. “I’m going to go with what I hear from the people in my precinct. There have been a lot of conversations where people say the government shouldn’t be telling them what they can do on private property.”
If an individual, unrestrained by law, chooses to start a fire and that fire gets out of control, Renfro said, it is the responsibility of that individual to make reparation for the damages.
Violation of the burn ban is a Class C Misdemeanor and could result in a fine of up to $500 plus court costs.