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Staying Safe in the Holiday Seasons and Year Round in 2011:
Fire Safety Tips, Burn Ban Information and Links for Wimberley and Hays County, Texas

Fireworks and residents burning trash have caused several hundred fires in over the past few years during winter holidays in Travis and Hays Counties.

News8 Austin reported, "Fire investigators said the combination of high winds, low humidity and New Year's fireworks creates a potentially dangerous situation.

In a previous year, the Village of Wimberley banned the sales and use of fireworks within the city limits. This year (2010) no ban has yet been announced and there was no comparable regulation of fireworks use and sale within Hays County, where many fireworks-related fires begin. 

'Any kind of spark...can set some of this dry grass on fire whether it be a trash fire like we had here or fireworks...' Leroy Opiela of Travis County's sheriff office said."

The tragedy is that most of these fires are preventable.

Every year, cooler weather can bring more home fires from heating and cooking. Outdoor burning may also seem like an attractive idea. However, with rapidly increasing population density, the decision to burn outside carries with it heavy responsibilities affecting property and lives.

Breezy weather due to the movement of fronts, especially after dry or drying weather conditions, create  hazardous conditions for fire outbreaks. A fire started in ideal weather conditions may quickly sweep out of control if the wind picks up, as it often does with our shifting Texas weather patterns.

Always check burn ban conditions and the rules for burning in Hays Country before starting any fires...campfire, brush, or "controlled" burning of pasture.

Added to the still-common practice of burning brush and trash outside here in Wimberley, a practice that's dangerous at best, are threats from flames we usually think of as controlled. For instance, those wonderful wood burning fireplaces that can feel so cozy often send up materials that can land on dry natural materials, like cedar, and spark a combustion that can roar out of control in minutes. Flues and chimneys should be properly constructed and regularly inspected and repaired.

Some traditional practices of ranch management continue in this semi-rural area, most often used by those without an informed understanding of effects on current neighboring populations and property. Anyone who lives in Wimberley for a period of time will have experienced the offensively unwelcome intrusion of neighboring smoke into their homes, often at a level destructive to furnishings, and not the least of concerns, lungs.

Wimberley is fortunate to have the services of a trained Volunteer Fire Department with support from CERT, but with unregulated wiring and heating practices, almost everyone here knows someone who has had a house fire or who has experienced one. Common-sense safeguards can prevent many of these, and the holidays are an especially good time to remain vigilant.

 
Another common source of danger is the use of fireworks, an activity best left to professionals with adequate emergency backup in place. The fireworks presented by the pros are more impressive, too!

Deaths, injuries and fires occur too frequently when untrained consumers and children light fireworks, and any fireworks during burn ban conditions are extremely dangerous.

Six prominent health and fire safety advocates have called for a ban on consumer fireworks use. These include the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, International Fire Marshals Association, National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the NFPA.

Fireworks too often result in severe burns, scars and disfigurement that can last a lifetime. According to the NFPA, even fireworks mistakenly thought to be safe, like sparklers (which can reach temperatures above 1000 degrees F) can burn users and bystanders.

Not only fireworks, which can be quickly regulated, cause fires during the holidays. Although not in the same statistical league, candle fires are also more common around holiday time. Candles can be part of holiday decorations and candle fires account for upwards of 10 percent of home fires during the holidays.

The everyday activity of cooking meals is the number one cause of home fires across the country. These statistics do not necessarily apply to the Wimberley area, where homes in the Wimberley area have also ignited from the ubiquitous "controlled" burning of brush or trash...burns that can quickly flare out of control. However, almost everyone knows of examples where a kitchen fire led to the loss of a home.

Tips suggested by the National Fire Prevention Association for safety steps during cooking:

  • Don't leave cooking food unattended.
  • Roll up sleeves and don't wear loose clothing. 
  • Ban children and pets from a three-foot "safe zone" around the stove. 
  • Keep pot handles turned in to avoid spills. 
  • Keep pot holders, dish towels, food packaging and other clutter off the stovetop. 
  • Clean cooking equipment; built-up grease can catch fire.
  • Avoid using a turkey fryer. These units have a high risk of tipping over, overheating, or spilling hot oil, leading to fires, burns, or other injuries.

Using common sense and practicing safety guidelines will help give you and your loved ones a way to  maintain a safe home. If you see a fire that doesn't fall within the rules for our area, including illegal burning of construction materials and/or brush, please report the infraction to the Hays County Fire Marshall's office. The home you save may be your own!

For more information about the burn ban, contact the Hays County Fire Marshall.

MORE RELATED LINKS

  National Fire Protection Association

  Local Fire Caused by Outdoor Welding

  Another Local Fire:
Click for photos from fire on Mail Route Road, just off John Knox

 




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