Tinderbox Time in Houston Means Water Conservation and an Increased Risk of Fires

Drought conditions and high temperatures mean residents should be wary of fire risks.
Drought conditions and high temperatures mean residents should be wary of fire risks. Screenshot
As conditions stay too hot and dry across the region, cities and counties are encouraging residents to practice water conservation and watch out for any outdoor activity that could set the landscape ablaze.

This weather is not entirely unexpected. Cities such as Houston have had their drought-contingency plans designed to reduce the overall amount of water consumed activated since last summer. However, more areas within the region have recently implemented these plans or been placed under burn bans after a hot weather season that got off to an earlier than usual start. .

Katy is currently in stage two of its doubt-contingency plan; the city asked residents last week to abide by an alternating lawn watering schedule and asked for nonessential water usage for street cleaning, vehicle washing and operating fountains to stop. The unincorporated parts of Galveston County were put under a burn ban for 90 days.

According to David Sohns, the director of utilities for Pearland, one of the biggest concerns during a drought is ensuring sufficient water is held in reserve for firefighters’ operations.

“Any time you consider water, it has multiple purposes, and one of the key purposes is for firefighting efforts,” Sohns said. “If the storage water is depleted to the point where it jeopardizes this, that is a big issue.”

He said Pearland Water distributes information to residents on ways to cut back on their household water consumption both in and outdoors, sharing water-conservation tips such as checking for leaks, collecting rainwater for outdoor usage or fully loading water-using appliances.

Houston Public Works provides similar water conservation tips through its ongoing Give Water a Break Campaign and hosts community engagement events with its recently established water and education outreach team. The city has been under stage one of its drought-contingency plan since June 2022, which calls for these actions to be practiced voluntarily to reduce 5 percent of its overall water usage.

Sohns said these proactive measures help ensure cities have an adequate water surplus. This is particularly important as the number of fires increases within the region during the summer.

Brandi Dumas, communications manager at the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, said they have seen an uptick in fires. Many are due to people discarding smoking materials in dry environments.

"We have a lot of fires on the sides of the roads from people throwing their cigarettes out of their cars.”

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“We have a lot of fires on the sides of the roads from people throwing their cigarettes out of their cars,” she said. “Those doing this should make sure to fully put them out and in a water bottle or container they have because it is hot, and they will spark up grass fires.”

Dumas said residents should also be careful when grilling or doing anything involving an open flame outdoors when the ground is dry. Despite the rise, firefighters have not seen any activity out of the ordinary, but they have to tackle and manage flames amid the recent unseasonable heat waves, she said.

“This is something our firefighters deal with and have to be conscious of," she said. "They have to be very conscious their protective gear is on because this gear is heavy, and they are fighting the heat too," she said.

According to Dumas, the Fire Marshal’s Office continues to monitor drought conditions but is not currently under a burn ban.

Dan Reilly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service serving Houston and Galveston, said the number of counties under these bans and cities activating their drought-contingency plans could increase as dry weather remains in the forecast into next week.

“We have this upper-level high-pressure system over us bringing in the very hot and dry pattern, and that is the problem we are dealing with,” he said. “The lack of rain and the hot temperatures worsen conditions over time.”

Reilly said Harris County is experiencing a moderate drought concentrated in the Southeast part of the county. He said droughts tend to fluctuate as there may be some relief from isolated thunderstorms in coastal Texas; however, these are few and far between and dissipate further inland.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.