By Sarah Rafique
Killeen Daily Herald
Texas endured its driest year on record in 2011, when it received little to no rain in June.
Thanks to some early rain this June, the state is not seeing the same kind of fire activity, said April Saginor, Texas Forest Service spokesperson - "not even close."
Despite the recent rainfall, local officials are still concerned about an active fire season. It's still early in the year and there is a long way to go, said Glenn Gallenstein, deputy chief of the Harker Heights Fire Department.
"We've had a lot of rain, but we still have a lot of dry grass and debris from last year, so we're still very concerned," he said.
Consecutive rainless days and dry, brittle brown grass is an indicator that fire danger could be higher, Saginor said.
Fire activity is down from 3 million acres statewide this time last year to about 58,000 acres so far this year, said Saginor. "Because we haven't had the kind of fire season that we had last year, a lot of people have forgotten that it can happen here."
There is not a high-to-extreme risk for fire in Central Texas in the immediate future, said Saginor, but conditions change daily, depending on weather. She advised residents to continue to exercise fire prevention measures, including having a water supply available when smoking, grilling, burning debris, using fireworks or participating in an activity that could cause a spark.
Other recommendations include covering controlled fires, which reduces the risk of flying embers. Also, cigarettes or coals from barbecues should be fully extinguished before disposal. Yards should be cleared of vegetation and leaves within 30 feet of the home, and don't store combustibles inside.
About 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans, often unintentionally, said Saginor.
So far this month, rainfall in Killeen ranges from 1.75 to 2.36 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Only about 8 percent of Texas is in an extreme drought, compared to about 85 percent this time last year, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map released earlier this month.
The maps show the northern region of Bell County as abnormally dry, while the south is in a moderate drought. Coryell and Lampasas counties are abnormally dry.
Although a burn ban has not been enacted in Bell County, Gallenstein said he doesn't recommend that people burn debris outside.
Kenneth Hawthorne, deputy chief of Killeen Fire Department, said his department also is taking the fire season day-to-day.
"It's not as dry and we've had more rain this year, which has resulted in less fires," he said. "We just deal with it as it comes along."
Contact Sarah Rafique at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7549.