Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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July 9, 2013

Grass fire nears tank farm

Corsicana — A 24-acre grass fire that skirted the Sunoco oil tank farm just outside of Corsicana Tuesday afternoon brought out firefighters from across the county to battle the blaze.

Fire departments from Corsicana, Angus, Barry, Emhouse, Mildred, Corbet-Oak Valley, Mustang, Navarro Mills, Retreat and Richland responded to the call. Supporting their work were volunteers from the American Red Cross, a Sunoco motor grader sent to help contain the fire, and workers from Sunoco, who stood between the fire and the 18 active oil tanks.

It was unclear how the fire started, but it jumped a fire break as well as the farm-to-market road 709 before the fire fighters were able to halt its march towards the oil reserves. High winds fanned the flames, making their work more treacherous.

A burn ban was put in place for Navarro County on July 1 by the County Commissioners Court in response to the dryness of the grass and dearth of rainfall. It has made the area ripe for grassfires, according to Eric Meyers, coordinator for the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We’re definitely seeing the rate of fires increase,” Meyers said. “Frequency and size are increasing.”

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index, or KBDI Index, measures dryness of soil and grasses. When the burn ban was instituted less than two weeks ago Navarro County was at 575. On Tuesday, the county was at 629 on the scale. Without rain, the county could easily hit 700, an extreme danger zone, Meyers explained.

“Anytime from 600 to 800 on the drought index, fuels really dry out,” Meyers said. “So when we’re looking at conditions like today, with hot temperatures, and low humidity and winds 10 miles and hour with gusts up to 15 miles an hour, it can really increase dangerous fire conditions.”

The fire on FM 709 was the second grassfire in less than 24 hours in the county. An earlier fire on Tuesday burned just under an acre out on Southeast County Road 0110. That fire was sparked by a pump jack. As well, there have been four grassfires inside the city since the burn ban was put into place, according to the Corsicana Fire Department.

People should be aware of the danger, and take precautions, Meyers said. For people outside the city, that means creating barriers to fire around their structures, like houses and barns. Keep grass short, and disc up at least a fire zone around roads and barns.

“Obviously, if things continue to worsen and we don’t seen significant rainfall in the next 14 to 20 days, there’s always the possibility of more restrictions towards outdoor burning and outdoor activities, like there were in 2006 and 2011, when there was absolutely no outdoor burning at all,” Meyers said. “It’s only in extreme cases, but when you look at the threats to life and safety, that outweighs certain circumstances.”

Sheriff Elmer Tanner was one of the ranchers affected by the fire, since part of it burned through a pasture he’s renting on FM 709.

“That fire could have gotten serious if it had gotten into that tank farm,” Tanner said. “It was serious as it was.”

Tanner said he’s always appreciated volunteer firefighters, but he was reminded of their many contributions again Tuesday when he went out to visit the pasture.

“You really appreciate a doctor when you’re sick,” he said. “When you need the fire departments, they’re an important part of our community. When it actually affects you, you appreciate them even more.”

—————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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