A lack of significant rainfall over the past few months in Nueces County and a growing danger of wildfires have led to the continuation of an outdoor burn ban, as well as the suspension of agricultural burning.
Nueces County Commissioners last week essentially renewed an order from a Nov. 14 meeting that restricts outdoor burning activities, such as trash and brush burning, for unincorporated areas of the region over the next 90 days.
County officials said in November that the western part of the county has become increasingly dry according to the Keetch Byram Drought Index. The drought index ranges from 0 to 800, where a drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion, and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions.
At last week's meeting, Tyner Little, executive assistant to the county judge, said the situation has not improved over the past few months.
He said the county has an average KBDI rating of about 540 now, but Little added the western part of the county is in the 600 to 700 range.
"That is dangerously high," Little said.
The KBDI is a tool which is used to determine forest fire potential and is based on a daily water balance, where a drought factor is balanced with precipitation and soil moisture and is expressed in hundredths of an inch of soil moisture depletion.
According to the National Weather Service, the Corpus Christi International Airport measured less than one inch of rainfall for the months of November and December combined. The same could be said for the city of Robstown.
January showed about two inches of rainfall, but that did little to ease the dry spell the county is in right now, said NWS meteorologist Bob Burton.
"These values are way below what they should be," Burton said. "We are abnormally dry right now."
Emergency management coordinator Bill Roberts said last week the county has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discontinue issuing permits for agricultural burning.
A letter written Feb. 5 to the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service by County Judge Loyd Neal asked the NRCS to consider "suspending agricultural burn permitting until…drought conditions no longer exist."
The letter came on the heels of a Feb. 1 request by Gov. Rick Perry for a Federal Disaster Declaration for the state of Texas.
John Freeman, district conservationist for the NRCS, said Friday he had received Neal's letter, adding that there will indeed be a temporary suspension on the issuance of agricultural burning permits.
"We are in total agreement with the county on this," Freeman said. "We're not going to do any burns until conditions change."
Freeman said his office is certified to create burn plans for farmers and landowners, as well as provide supervision for the burn, which is instrumental for a process that can spin out of control. Burning is an effective tool used to manage overgrown grass, thatch or unwanted species of brush that encompasses a wide area, he added.
A farmer could still attempt a burn, but without a certified plan or professional, that would be extremely dangerous, Freeman said.
Roberts said the agricultural burning suspension is only meant to help protect the county and its citizens from the dangers of wildfires. However, he added, there may be some farmers and landowners who might be unhappy with the situation.
"We want to watch out for the county, but we understand that these guys have to get this stuff done," Roberts said.
The burn ban passed by the county only pertains to areas of the county outside any city limits. Areas like Banquete and Petronilla, however, also fall under the jurisdiction of the burn ban, county officials said. There is no timetable for when the agricultural burn suspension may be lifted.