Burn bans and prescribed fires in Texas

Above: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel who had been mobilized to conduct prescribed fires at the Matador Wildlife Management Area (map) reconfigured as a Strike Team of Type 6 engines after a series of very large wildfires broke out in the Texas panhandle. Photo by TPWD. 

On March 12 we wrote about the two Borger Fire Department firefighters who suffered burn injuries while working on a prescribed fire in the panhandle of Texas. One was seriously injured and the other was treated at a hospital and released.

Chris M. Schenck, the Statewide Fire Program Leader in the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department contacted us to clarify information about prescribed fire and burn bans in the state.

Here is a glossary of the acronyms used:

  • Rx: prescribed (fire)
  • TPWD: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • CIPBM: Certified Insured Prescribed Burn Managers
  • NWCG: National Wildfire Coordinating Group
  • TCEQ: Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ
  • NPS: National Park Service
  • DOD: Department of Defense

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By Chris M. Schenck

“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) stood down our Rx Fire plans last week, though we were in prescription and had all contingency resources on location.  In fact we stood in the gap for  already committed Texas Forest Service resources.

Your comment:

“There was a burn ban in effect in Donley County but Texas law exempts prescribed fires from burn bans.”

Is correct, but may be a little simplified.  Here is link to the actual Texas State Statute.

Section D sec 352.081 (f.) [1.] & [2.] provide a little  clarification on Burn Bans and Rx Burning.

Essentially, only Certified Insured Prescribed Burn Managers (CIPBM) and Prescribed Burn Associations  may burn during a burn ban.

The State recognizes NWCG Burn Bosses as the equivalent of CIPBM as well.  Most of the time in my agency we are coordinating with the County Court of Commissioners  for a long time prior to burning.

State burning laws in Texas as in other states are fairly complex and a little tricky to follow.  Ray Hinnant a long CIPBM instructor wrote an article that is pretty helpful in understanding the rules.

In fact one of the first laws in  the Republic of Texas  shortly after 1845 prohibited “the burning of grass”.  This is still  essentially the case, then they go on to make exceptions.  Here is a link to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations.

We have a very fragile balance in prescribed burning here in Texas as we are a 98% private lands state.

The events of last week often set back programs, public perception and spawn legislation.

TPWD is the third largest land manager behind (your former employer) NPS and the DOD. Burning on public lands is very significant  for habitat restoration and resiliency.

We have a great opportunity in Texas to “Rekindle the Fire Culture” and get more appropriate and responsible Rx Fire on the land.

TPWD Wildlife Division, has the privilege of providing Technical Guidance to Land Owners for Rx Fire and other land management activities.  Here is a link to our fire page.”

Stories from the Oklahoma fire line

The three fires that started Monday March 6 during a wind event in Oklahoma and Kansas were managed as the NW Oklahoma Complex of Fires and burned over 833,941 acres.

The men in these two videos tell a part of the story as they saw it during the first couple of days. The videos were acquired and posted on the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook page by the Southern Area Red Team.

First, is Eric Bond of Knowles, Oklahoma.


Below is a transcript of the video above:

I’m Eric Bond. I’m on the Gate Volunteer Fire Department (18 years). We got paged out Monday the 6th, I believe, at noon or eleven. Something like that, and we went to Knowles and got a one ton brush rig and went to the fire as quick as I could and I was hearing on the radio it was already twenty miles ahead of us. We were trying to save some houses down in there. And my wife had called and wanted to know what she could do. I told her to get one of my boys out of school and to move some cows out of the river. We were trying to save some houses down in there. It was going right down the Cimarron River. And we went over there after a couple of tanks of water, and fought it off a neighbor’s house.

And north of us was a wall of fire but it was going east at the time. And I called my son and asked him he got out of there. And he said “yeah he did” but my wife was still down there trying to get two more cows. And about then the wind changed and that thing came down through there, down river, forty feet high. I told the guy with me “I have to go down there but you don’t have to, you ought to get out.” He said “no, I’m in”! So we went and it turned out there were like six people down there trying to get those cows. And the fire kind of over ran us. We kind of struggled a little getting out of there.

We got through my pasture to the neighbor’s other house and everything there was on fire except the house. And I told everybody to stay in the road because you know they won’t burn up in the road if the house catches on fire. And we just kind of kept it off that house. And another truck showed up eventually, and I don’t know he was but we left him there to watch that house and we went to my house.

And in the meantime, I heard my house burned down. And when we got where we could see it, it did look like it had. But when we got up there the house was ok, but everything else around it burned. All my machinery and trailers, and pretty well everything there, four out buildings, skid loaders, and…pretty well everything there. But the house was ok. And I talked to another guy on our department a while ago and there had been a truck up there. He didn’t know who it was before we got there, but it was there at one time before we got there.

We ended up burning nearly every square foot four miles north. We came out better than some. We lost some cows and some calves (34 cows and calves). The horses are singed a little, but they’re ok.

[How long were you out?] Oh, it was three days from the time they paged until I took my clothes off. And I was sure glad seeing everyone else showing up and kind of get a break, and see what’s left. I had another place in Harper County, and it burnt a little, a hay shed was burnt, 60 bales of hay, and a tractor. I’m pretty fortunate it didn’t burn near all that place.

Next is Charlie Starbuck, chief of the Slapout Fire Department. The largest of the three fires is named after him because he reported it.

Information about how to donate to organizations that are helping the victims of the fires. And here.

Two firefighters injured on prescribed fire in Texas

Borger Fire Department TexasTwo firefighters suffered burn injuries March 9 while working on a prescribed fire in the panhandle of Texas and were airlifted to a hospital. The Borger Fire Department  (map) has confirmed that two of their personnel, fire fighter Clay Lozier and fire chief Bob Watson, were injured transported to Lubbock for treatment.

According to Amarillo.com:

Borger Fire Chief Bob Watson remains in serious condition Saturday at the UMC Timothy J. Harnar Burn Center in Lubbock, according to BFD Lieutenant Stacy Nolen, and Borger firefighter Clay Lozier, who was injured in the same incident, has since been released from the burn unit.

News Channel 10 reports that the prescribed fire on the JA Ranch in Donley County was going well until a juniper tree torched, causing a spot fire. The firefighters almost had that contained when a fire whirl “threw fire 30 yards in every direction”, ranch owner Andrew Bivins said.

There was a burn ban in effect in Donley County but Texas law exempts prescribed fires from burn bans.

New Smokey Bear song corrects the icon’s name

Smokey Bear's debut
Smokey Bear’s debut in 1944.

When the Smokey Bear fire prevention campaign began in 1944 he was known as just that, “Smokey Bear” without “the” in the name.

But in 1952 Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote what became a successful song named “Smokey the Bear”. They said adding “the” enhanced the song’s rhythm. A Little Golden Book published about the bear in 1955 followed the songwriters lead and also used the incorrect “the” version of the name.

All this created confusion, but the name of the fire prevention icon is and always has been Smokey Bear.

A few years ago the U.S. Forest Service gave a grant to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources who teamed up with students from the Columbus College of Art and Design and 2Tall Animation Studio to research, design, and create a new Smokey Bear animated video and song.

Notice his name…

A teacher’s kit is available that has wildfire prevention activities, lyrics to the song, a Smokey Bear comic book, and coloring pages.

Update on wildfires in Oklahoma and Kansas

Above: Satellite data from March 8 shows that there was much less heat detected by the satellite (the red dots) on the fires in the tri-state area of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the panhandle of Texas than in previous days.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported on Wednesday that the NW Oklahoma Complex of Fires had significant growth during the previous 24 hours. The three fires in that complex are:

  • Starbuck (Beaver and Harper County in Oklahoma, plus, in Kansas, Meade, Comanche, Clark Counties) – 715,484 acres total in Oklahoma and Kansas;
  • Selman (Harper and Woodward County, Oklahoma) – 47,289 acres; and,
  • 283 Fire (Harper County, Oklahoma) – 71,168 acres

An Oklahoma Forest Service Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) has been assigned to the fires but an order has been placed for a Type 1 IMT, which is the largest and most highly qualified type of IMT.

More moderate weather conditions across the region on Thursday should slow the spread of the wildfires, with wind speeds in many areas that are less than 10 mph. However the relative humidities are in the teens in the western areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the northern panhandle of Texas.

Through the FEMA Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) approved for the Northwest Oklahoma Complex of fires, local fire departments and other response agencies may be eligible for reimbursements for costs associated with emergency protective measures and firefighting activities.

The video, uploaded March 9, shows the view from an airliner of one of the fires in the Oklahoma/Kansas border area.