Firefighters have contingency plans in case prescribed burns get out of hand

CENTRAL TEXAS – Controlled burns are supposed to take place under supervision, but even under a watchful eye, fires can be unpredictable.

Each time a prescribed burn is approved, fire crews create a detailed plan outlining how they will contain the burn and, if necessary, how to stop it. Richard Gray, chief regional fire coordinator at the Texas A&M Forest Service, says a meeting is always held beforehand.

“During the briefing, they will inform the crews: here are the actions we must take if we get a place outside the line,” said Gray.

The “line” Gray refers to is the boundary of the marked area for fire. He says only one in 100 planned fires involves a minor escape from designated boundaries, but a fire last week in Bastrop County was certainly the exception to the rule.

“It’s kind of a bad area that can get out of hand during wildfire season,” said Catlin Samuels, assistant chief of the Groesbeck Fire Department.

Initially a prescribed burn set up by Texas Parks and Wildlife around Jan. 18, the blaze grew into an 800-acre wildfire and prompted evacuations. Fortunately, no structures were damaged, but that left the county judge wanting answers. Gray says what happened in Bastrop County is unusual, but crews know what to do if the line is breached.

“In the very rare instance where the fire completely escapes the burned area, we do what’s called wildfire conversion,” Gray said. “Declare the fire a wildfire.”

Samuels’ department actually got involved in dealing with the fire.

“We don’t have a lot of prescribed burns in our area here in Limestone County, but we had a truck that was out there on our deployment that ended up getting to this fire,” Samuels said.

Gray says that if a prescribed burn gets out of hand, it may not be due to negligence, but simply factors beyond the control of the burn crew. His tips for controlling a planned fire can be applied to anyone doing legal burning on their property.

“Prepare for the unexpected,” Gray said. “Have an emergency plan, even if the burn lasts all day.”

According to the US Drought Monitor, conditions were “abnormally dry” in Bastrop County at the time of the fire. No burning ban was in effect. There are currently several active burn bans in Central Texas, but the 25 Weather team advises against all outdoor burning at this time, regardless of burn ban status.

When outdoor burning can safely resume, Samuels says it’s a good idea to have a few buckets of water or a garden hose near your burn point, just in case stray embers ignite fires. unwanted brush. This way you won’t have to call your local fire department to fix your mistake.

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