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Prescribed burn helps reduce wildfire threat to communities

Prescribed burn helps reduce wildfire threat to communities
Prescribed burn reduces wildfire threat. Appropriate procedures must be followed. Agency support is critical.                                                                                                                                                     

Over the past month, Dickens County fire officials and personnel have provided aid to surrounding counties affected by recent wildfire threats as far as 150 miles away. Officials have seen homes burned, cities evacuated, livestock killed, and tens of thousands of acres of grazing lands destroyed.

Dickens County has generally been spared complete wildfire devastation. Regardless, the county’s Emergency Management (EM) team continues to work on wildfire mitigation action plans to protect their communities from wildfires.

The EM in Dickens County requested assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to discuss the need for prescribed burn plans on acres of grass lands in close proximity to the cities of Spur, Dickens and Afton.

“Emergency Management initially asked us for the aerial imagery of the communities,” said Charlie Morris, district conservationist for the NRCS in Spur.  “Together, we conducted an evaluation for fire exposure from vegetation of all three cities.”

As a result, mitigation for the cities of Dickens and Afton were executed with simple bladed fire breaks. The vegetation in these cities was determined to be mostly cropland with only minimal un-grazed herbaceous vegetation.

In a similar review conducted for the city of Spur, Morris said they found severe hazard conditions on the west city limits due to heavy CRP vegetation.  Dickens County Judge Lesa Arnold  immediately requested assistance from the NRCS  to work with the CRP landowner in preparation of a defensive prescribed burn plan in an effort to create a fire-safe buffer on the west side of Spur.

“Permission for mitigation action was gained from the landowner on April 18,” Morris said.

Morris and NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist James Lewis developed a complete burn plan, which included a 57-acre fire safe buffer for the city’s west side.   EM approved the plan and set a tentative prescribed burn date for April 20, knowing that optimal weather conditions would determine their schedule.

Weather forecast called for northeast winds and elevated relative humidity.  Morris met with Spur Fire Department personnel the evening before the tentative burn date to review the plan and coordinate the support.

Greg Arnold, assistant EM coordinator and district director of Duck Creek SWCD, worked with Dickens County road and bridge crews on preparation and installation of bladed fire guards prior to the prescribed burn.  County Commissioner Sheldon Parsons directed the motor graders.  All guards were installed and evaluated to be ready if weather conditions were good.

Community support

Community support was unwavering. South Plains Electric Cooperative and Caprock Telephone Cooperative granted leave to employees serving as Spur volunteer fire fighters.  Traffic control and smoke safety was executed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Spur Police Department and the Dickens County Sheriff’s office.

Ideal weather conditions made it possible for the prescribed burn.  Temperatures were in the mid 60s, relative humidity was 70 percent, and a steady northeast wind blew at 10 mph.  

“The crew gathered on site at 7 a.m. with four wildland fire fighting trucks, one tanker, one fire command vehicle and one county motor grader.  NRCS crews were present with an ignition UTV, weather monitoring equipment, and one control burn sprayer,” Morris said.

“A fire safe buffer like this one on the west side of Spur is not a cure-all for protection.  Conditions have remained so severe that nothing we create will provide absolute protection from fires of nature,” said EM Coordinator Wess Abbott.

However, Abbott explained that the fire break will provide a trench for fire fighters to dig into and make a defensive stand should a severe wildfire approach Spur.

“This action is simply mitigation against wildfire threats.  The only cure from a total threat is rain,” he said.

The fire safe buffer was completed by mid-morning.  Spur residents can now breathe a little easier knowing a fire guard is there to help in the event a wildfire threatens their community. 

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