Denton County residents should be especially cautious of fireworks and outdoor cooking as local authorities implemented a countywide burn ban Tuesday.
The ban restricts all outdoor burning of combustible material, such as wood, lumber, leaves and brush. It also restricts outdoor cooking, welding, cutting-torch operations and other outdoor activity involving open flames. While fireworks aren't specifically included in the restrictions, authorities are discouraging their use during the holiday season.
Violations of the ban, which County Judge Mary Horn signed as part of an executive order, may result in a class C misdemeanor and $500 fine. It doesn't affect other criminal charges for fire-related incidents, such as reckless damage or destruction.
Jody Gonzalez, Denton County Emergency Services director. said high winds, low humidity and dead vegetation has contributed to an increased risk in wildfires. In the last three weeks, county firefighters have handled at least two grass fires a day, he said.
Denton County currently has the highest risk of wildfires in north central Texas, according to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which assesses the flammability of organic material on the ground. The area is also shown to be experiencing "severe drought conditions" according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Map.
"It's one thing if it's a brush or grass fire, but when you start seeing grass fires start from electrical poles and mechanical malfunctions, or chains and equipment dragging down the highway creating a spark ... you know you're entering a significant situation with drought, and your dead and dormant vegetation is extremely [vulnerable]," Gonzalez said.
He said the ban will be in effect until heavy rainfall showers the county. But that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon, according to Jason Godwin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
Godwin said there are no signs of rain in the seven-day forecast in the Denton area. The 14-day forecast also shows below average precipitation.
"All indications show we're going to be staying dry for the next couple of weeks," he said, later adding, "It's looking like even in terms of humidity, we're going to be staying pretty low for the next seven days."
Gonzalez said the ban has some exceptions for outdoor cooking restrictions. It doesn't restrict cooking with propane or natural gas in a "complete and full" enclosure. It also doesn't limit cooking with wood or charcoal in a full enclosure, as long as the area 5 feet around the enclosure is cleared of combustible material.
He said at least one water source needs to be stationed in areas where workers need to use open flames.
JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.