Proposed burn ban evokes controversy but Williams provides strong explanation for 90-day length

Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams is one of Montgomery County’s finest law enforcement officers.

Conroe, September 10 – Although some readers of The Golden Hammer have expressed concern about the length of the proposed 90-day burn ban, which the Montgomery County Commissioners Court will approve at today’s regular meeting at 9:30 a.m., Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams has provided a carefully-reasoned explanation for the policy. Williams has also made clear that most burn bans only last 30 days, but the proposed 90-day resolution is only to provide the Fire Marshal’s Office the flexibility to continue the ban as long as the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), an objective scientific measure of drought conditions, remains above 600.

The Commissioners Court agenda item reads:

“Consider, discuss and take appropriate action regarding creation of an order prohibiting outdoor burning in unincorporated areas of Montgomery County in accordance with Local Government Code 352.081.”

The proposed burn ban resolution reads:

“WHEREAS, The Texas Forest Service has determined that drought conditions exist in Montgomery County and

“WHEREAS, the Montgomery County Fire Marshal finds that circumstances present in all or part of the unincorporated area of the County create a public safety hazard that would be exacerbated by outdoor burning;

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED by the Commissioners Court of Montgomery County that all outdoor burning is prohibited in unincorporated Montgomery County for 90 days from the date of adoption of this Order, unless the restrictions are terminated earlier based on a determination made by the Texas Forest Service or this Court. This Order is adopted pursuant to Local Government Code 352.081, and other applicable statutes. This Order does not prohibit outdoor burning activities related to public health and safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for: (1) firefighter training; (2) public utility, natural gas pipeline or mining operations; (3) planting or harvesting of agricultural crops; or, (4) burns that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager certified under Section 153.048, Natural Resources Code, and meet the standards of Section 153.047, Natural Resources Code.

“In accordance with Local Government Code 352.081 (h), a violation of this Order is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00.”

The Fire Marshal’s Wild Fire Assessment Report appears at the end of this article.

Williams gave an exclusive interview to The Golden Hammer last night. “Montgomery County reached 651 on Friday morning on the KBDI scale of 0 to 800. 0 means the ground is fully saturated while the 800 is total drought conditions,” he said.

Texas A&M University’s Interagency Coordination Center in Lubbock provided the following explanation of the KBDI Scale:

“The KBDI attempts to measure the amount of precipitation necessary to return the soil to full field capacity. It is a closed system ranging from 0 to 800 units and represents a moisture regime from 0 to 8 inches of water through the soil layer. At 8 inches of water, the KBDI assumes saturation. Zero is the point of no moisture deficiency and 800 is the maximum drought that is possible. At any point along the scale, the index number indicates the amount of net rainfall that is required to reduce the index to zero, or saturation.

“The inputs for KBDI are weather station latitude, mean annual precipitation, maximum dry bulb temperature, and the last 24 hours of rainfall. Reduction in drought occurs only when rainfall exceeds 0.20 inches (called net rainfall). The computational steps involve reducing the drought index by the net rain amount and increasing the drought index by a drought factor. KBDI levels and its relationship to expected fire potential are reflected in the following table:

  • KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant season following winter precipitation.
  • KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity
  • KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively.
  • KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep-burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

Williams explained that Montgomery County had 15 wildfires on Saturday, September 7, and 16 wildfires on Sunday, September 8. “When you reach that level of drought, you have more catastrophic wildfires. Historically, we have tracked wildfire patterns in this community for many years. When the Magnolia Wildfire occurred, we had reached 695 on the KBDI Scale,” Williams said.

“90% of wildfires have a human cause. We were hoping to get through the summer without a burn bad at all, but we have been really dry in the last couple of months,” Williams explained. “San Jacinto County enacted a burn ban on Monday.”

When asked about the length of the burn ban, Williams said that 90 days is the maximum length that a Commissioners Court may enact a burn ban under Chapter 352 of the Texas Local Government Code. “90 days is the longest you can set it, but then you pull it down when you get down to acceptable levels on the KBDI Scale. The real fear under current conditions is a cool front with gusty winds, which would likely result in a break out of large fires,” the Fire Marshal said.

“Most burn bans last 30 days or less. I’m hopeful we can end this one quickly,” Williams added.

Does this proposal comport with the fundamental morality of Lockean-Nozickian ultra minimalism?

Williams has always revealed a consciousness of the loss of freedom which occurs from government taxation upon the citizens. He has led by example during the County Budget process for years. He has emphasized the law enforcement function of the Fire Marshal’s office and made it clear that he and employees receive government paychecks in order to provide public safety and service to the citizens. Williams has always made clear that he works for the people and regards the citizens as his true bosses.

The proposed burn ban is a classic example of a proposed use of a minimal response to eliminate an externality, a moral response under Lockean “state of nature theory” which John Locke has always made clear emanates from Biblical principles and a moral response under the more detailed and rational exposition of Robert Nozick in his classic modern treatise Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

In his quiet and oft-humorous manner, Jimmy Williams is a practical political philosopher implementing public safety through a craft which he uses to protect the public’s safety without assuming additional powers or functions. Clearly, Williams approaches the proposed burn ban with the great reluctance of ultra minimalism in the Scriptures, in Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, in Hobbes’ Leviathan, and in Nozick.

The Fire Marshal’s Wildfire Risk Assessment follows.

Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Wildfire Risk Assessment, Page 1.
Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Wildfire Risk Assessment, Page 2.

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