Parts of Harris, Brazoria counties implement burn bans as dry conditions persist into fall

Most of the Houston region is experiencing drought conditions, which could continue through much of the winter, according to a local meteorologist.

Controlled Burn
Texas Parks & Wildlife
The Houston Arboretum carried out a prescribed fire last March in partnership with the Houston Fire Department and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

A burn ban took effect Wednesday in the unincorporated parts of Harris and Brazoria counties as the Houston region continues to deal with drought conditions.

The ban in Harris County, which includes most of Houston and is the most populous county in Texas, was approved Tuesday by Harris County Commissioners Court. It prohibits most outdoor fires, with the following exceptions:

  • Fires in an enclosure that contains all flames and sparks
  • Outdoor burning activities authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Approved ceremonial fires
  • Non-commercial cooking such as barbecues and backyard cookouts
  • Welding and similar work performed in accordance with county fire code requirements

"This time of year, people are raking up their leaves and pulling down the limbs that fall off from trees. That's the kind of burning you cannot do," Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said. "Basically, what we're saying is don't be burning the brush and additional trash that oftentimes we see occur in unincorporated parts of the county."

An unincorporated part of Harris County, which covers more than 1,200 square miles, is any part of the county not under the jurisdiction of a municipality. Christensen said this includes areas such as Atascocita, Klein, Sheldon and Spring.

Similar fire restrictions apply in Brazoria County, which extends from south of Houston to the Gulf Coast and includes towns such as Alvin, Angleton, Freeport, Lake Jackson and Manvel. The county said in a news release that fires contained in enclosures are allowed, including in contained barbecue pits and grills, while open-flame pits are prohibited.

Violations of the burn bans are class C misdemeanors punishable by fines up to $500.

With hot and dry weather early this summer, Christensen said Harris County implemented its first burn ban since 2015 from June 28-Aug. 23. Regular rain during August took Harris County and other parts of the Houston region out of drought conditions – as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – but the region went back into abnormally dry conditions in early October.

The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office said in a news release it now is one of 144 Texas counties with burn bans, including neighboring counties such as Chambers, Galveston, Liberty and Waller. According to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, produced by the Texas A&M Forest Service, much of Central Texas and East Texas are experiencing drought.

Eric Berger, a meteorologist with Space City Weather, said there is a chance for 2-3 inches of rainfall in the Houston region on Friday and Saturday, which could help. But Berger also said a La Nina winter is expected, which typically means warmer-than-usual winter conditions and drier air.

The La Nina weather pattern is an oscillating wind pattern in the Pacific Ocean that in some years can cause drier-than-usual conditions in the southwestern part of the U.S.

"The outlook for drought relief this winter is not great," Berger said. "We're going to kind of remain in this dry pattern."

Christensen said Harris County would need significant rain across the county, and not just in parts of the county, in order for drought conditions to improve and the burn ban to be lifted. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought is most significant in the southeast and far northwest parts of the county.

"Please keep your gutters clean," Christensen said. "Please make sure you're leaving a barrier of leaves away from your home. Don't burn your trash. Even if this burn ban wasn't in place, with the wind, be very, very careful. And make sure you always have a water source nearby."

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