By Mitch Holt, Staff Writer
Late December and early January brought devastating wildfires to Texas, fires that didn’t actually reach Abilene. Because of the favorable fire conditions, Abilene and area officials have placed burn bans and emergency plans into effect for all of Taylor County.
Greg Goettsch, lieutenant of the Abilene Fire Department, said the winter has been unseasonably warm and windy, greatly increasing fire danger for the entire state.
Immediately following the fires throughout the state, the governor declared all 254 counties in Texas disaster areas because of favorable fire conditions and extreme drought. As he made this declaration, he empowered local judges across the state to take necessary steps to protect citizens within their jurisdiction. This also allowed those losing money from the spreading fires to receive federal aid through low-interest loans.
Goettsch said the Abilene Fire Department, Texas Forest Service and the surrounding area fire departments are working together to create the quickest, most effective fire response possible. He said this coalition has been effective in preventing large-scale fire in the area.
Helicopters, air tankers, bulldozers and ground crews have all been involved in preventing and extinguishing fires.
Abilene Fire Department and city officials have compiled a list of certain precautions that must be taken by individuals living in the at-risk area, including the Taylor County Order Prohibiting Outdoor Burning.
The order states that someone who intentionally burns any combustible material outside of a fire enclosure is in direct violation of the ban. Violation of this order may result in a Class C Misdemeanor, and it can be enforced by any on-duty police officer.
“People need to refrain from engaging in any activity that could create a spark or a flame outdoors,” Goettsch said. “Always have water handy and call 911 immediately if any fire occurs.”
City officials said people in the area need to refrain from certain activities outdoors. Welding, cooking, smoking and bonfires are all equally hazardous under the current conditions, and citizens can protect their property by mowing grass as short as possible and clearing brush from a 30-foot perimeter around their homes.
“Abilene City Manager Larry Gilley has been extremely supportive of our efforts to help our neighbors in this time of need.” Goettsch said. “He and Fire Chief Brad Fitzer have been working together on ways to prevent further fire loss for our Abilene neighbors.”