Parks in and out of Houston are parched, with no measurable rain all summer. It’s especially evident at Memorial Park.
Mayor Annise Parker says it’s a virtual tinderbox.
“We’re already facing the loss of thousands of our trees, simply because they can’t survive the stress of this drought, and I cannot imagine losing an entire section of one of our beautiful forested parks, because we failed to protect them, or some Houstonian was careless in one of our city parks.”
She announced a campaign called “People Protecting Our Parks.” The plan has two main goals: educating Houstonians on fire prevention and protecting public parklands:
“The first step in this campaign is action on the part of the city, to order a temporary ban on all open flames in city parks. That would mean a temporary ban on barbecue pits, or other types of open flames in City of Houston parks.”
The grilling ban is being added to the prohibition on all outdoor burning.
Houston Parks Director Joe Turner took a look at the parks system from the air and says he’s trying to determine how many trees are dead, or dying:
“It’s this dryness from La Nina and if you read today’s paper, you’ll see they’re projecting another continuation of it. And what’s happened is, it’s just physically, in the words of Carter Smith the executive director of state parks systems, we have just literally sucked all the water out of the ground and out of these trees, and they’re just timber just waiting to catch on fire.”
Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison says so far this year, firefighters have responded to 186-fires with over 156-thousand acres:
“So, once you start that barbecue fire whether its in a pit, a box or on a grill, once that gets away from us, we have a wild land fire, and that fire pretty much travels in a direction that it wants to go. So, I think the best thing we can do is focus on prevention.”
Mayor Parker says the Public Works Department has loaned its watering trucks, and an emphasis is being directed on what she calls signature trees, like the oaks on Main Street and Hermann Park and others that are of notable size, or have an historical connection to the city:
“We also encourage Houstonians to water the street trees in front of their houses. We know that a number of civic associations have adopted the esplanades in their neighborhood, but we’re still gonna have tinder dry conditions in our forested parks.”
Signs are being posted throughout the parks system, and warnings will be issued to violators until city council adopts a permanent enforcement mechanism next week.