Burn ban

Bell County is hot and dry — and conditions are expected to exacerbate in the coming days.

Because of that, the Commissioners Court unanimously decided to extend a burn ban through 10 a.m. July 22. Bell County Judge David Blackburn called for the prohibition Friday.

Breaking the ban is a Class C misdemeanor that comes with a $500 fine. The last time Bell County was under a burn ban was in November.

“Weather conditions have just really worsened,” Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt said.

He pointed to the county’s readings on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures the moisture depletion of an area. The higher the number, the drier it is.

Overall, Bell County had an average reading of 541 on the index, with a high of 608 and a low of 444.

“There’s a large portion of the county in the 500 to 600 range. We decided 500 would be the minimum (to place a burn ban),” the fire marshal said. “Some are still in the 400 range but I expect that to continue to rise.”

Bell County’s recent temperatures have been in the high 90s and low 100s, Mahlstedt said. That pattern is expected to continue this week, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s pretty darn hot,” the fire marshal said.

As of Thursday, most of Bell County was under moderate drought conditions, according to the United States Drought Monitor

Currently, 91 Texas counties are under a burn ban. Only one of Bell County’s neighbors has called for a burning prohibition: Burnet County.

“With at least one county (nearby with a burn ban) and the KBDI being over 500, the chiefs and I are also in support of this,” Mahlstedt said, referring to the rural fire chiefs, who are typically consulted about placing a burn ban. “And then with the increased temperatures we’re having, I feel like it’s going to get worse as we continue.”

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