By Jon Schroeder
Killeen Daily Herald
GATESVILLE – For the first time this year, Coryell County commissioners are lifting the county's burn ban for an indefinite length, starting at sunrise on Friday.
The ban will not be lifted immediately, officials said at the Monday meeting, because area volunteer fire departments have larger staffs during the weekend and because current forecasts call for 25 to 30 mile per hour winds this week.
While no end date has been set, discussion centered on March 31 as a possible date for returning to the ban, depending on the conditions at that time.
The ban has been a centerpiece for conversation in commissioners court meetings since a brief lifting ushered in a flurry of grass fires late last year.
Even in opening the item for discussion, County Judge John Firth admitted it has been a decision he's "struggled with."
Monday's meeting saw several area fire and volunteer fire chiefs discussing possible repercussions both from lifting the ban and keeping it.
Some were concerned with the process of notification and with the possibility that area fire departments will be overwhelmed immediately when residents begin controlled burns on Friday.
"There's a lot of elements that go into discussion," Firth said, noting that the situation has become something of a "catch-22": the lack of controlled burns is causing brush to build up, but the last time the ban was lifted "controlled" burns got out of hand almost immediately.
Added to all that is a March 14 presidential declaration of emergency, which includes Coryell and surrounding counties. A state declaration also has been in effect since Feb. 29, although Coryell County's Keetch-Byram drought index, a tool for estimating fire danger, is at its lowest level since last October.
Several concerned citizens were in commissioners court on Monday to talk about the need to allow controlled burns, including Coryell County resident Dick Butler, who said he has three days' worth of burns to do. Some of those in attendance said that long-time members of the community – like themselves – burn safely, watching the weather closely to find optimal times to burn.
"We've been farming and ranching here all our lives without burn bans," Butler said in the meeting. "Don't restrict it (controlled burning)."
In enacting the current ban and in considering future bans, he said, "You take me out of the loop."
In lifting the ban, Firth recommends that residents not burn when wind speed exceeds 16 miles per hour and that they inform the Coryell County Sheriff's office before beginning a controlled burn.
In other action on Monday, the commissioners:
Discussed eminent domain procedures that may be used to obtain land for a new county jail.
Informed the public of the upcoming closure of the Copperas Cove branch of the Texas Workforce Commission.
Approved an updated Coryell County building maintenance list.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7475