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Jim Guidry Commentaries
Harris County
Houston Mayor Announces New Fire Safety Campaign
by Jim Guidry
Friday, September 09, 2011

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and the Houston Fire Department today participated in a news conference in Memorial Park to announce formation of People Protecting Our Parks, a new campaign that calls on Houstonians to proactively protect the City’s parklands during the ongoing drought.  Listen: MP3  RealPlayer

Parker said that the campaign has two main goals:  fire prevention education and the protection of public parklands.  The first step in this campaign is the issuance of a temporary ban on all barbeque pits in City of Houston Parks.

“Houstonians always respond to calls for help during times of need,” Parker said.  “People Protecting Our Parks is our call for help to everyone who loves our parks, green spaces and trees.”

Parker said that the city is facing the loss of thousands of our trees because of the drought. 

“I can’t imagine losing thousands more trees, or possibly an entire section of one of our beautiful parks, simply because we failed to protect them from fire,” Parker said. 

“We have seen wildfire tragedies all across our great state this past week,” said PARD Director Joe Turner.  “Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by them.”

Turner reported on an aerial fly-over of the park system in  a Houston Police Department on Wednesday to assess the condition of the urban forest.

“As a result of that assessment and the predictions we’re hearing about the drought and the wildfire situations all across our state, we decided it is necessary to temporarily ban the use of barbeque pits and grills in all City of Houston Parks,” Parker said.  The mayor said she is using her emergency powers to launch the ban, but citizens will be asked to voluntarily comply until Houston City Council approves a formal ordinance next Wednesday.

The temporary ban on barbeque pits will remain in effect until further notice.  Signage notifying the public about the ban will be placed in the parks.  To allow for a period of public education, warnings will be issued to violators until City Council adopts the permanent enforcement mechanism next week.

“The City of Houston has seen more that its share of grass and woodland fires, with 160 fires since the beginning of September, compared to nine the same time last year,” reported Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison.  “The Houston Fire Department is reminding citizens to be extra vigilant in activities that can lead to accidental fires, including the use of barbeques at home and smoking materials. We join Mayor Parker and HPARD in recognizing that our citizens can have the greatest positive impact on the safety of our parks by foregoing the use of barbeque grills right now.”

The Fire Department provided a list safety tips that should be observed during this drought:

Barbeque Safety

Portable barbecue pits, charcoal grills and other open-flame cooking devices outside of a building should not be operated on combustible balconies or located within 10 feet of combustible walls or roofs or other combustible materials.

When igniting the barbecue charcoal, use a charcoal lighter, not gasoline. Gasoline can flash violently in and around the pit causing serious injuries to anyone in the area of the flash. A fire extinguisher or charged garden hose should be handy while the fire is burning. Check the pit frequently to ensure that it is okay.

Hot ash and coals from barbecue pits and charcoal burners should be placed in a non-combustible container until cooled or thoroughly saturated with water, before being disposed.

Open Flames

The City of Houston Fire Code prohibits all open-burning within the Houston city limits at all times.  The burn ban in unincorporated areas of Harris County also prohibits any outdoor open-burning, including the burning of: a bonfire, rubbish fire, campfire, trench fire, or other fire in an outdoor location when not contained.

Vehicles, Trailers and Tools

Park vehicles so that the exhaust system does not come in contact with dry grass, leaves, or weeds.

Adjust the safety chains on trailers to ensure they don’t drag and create sparks that can cause roadside starts.

Keep lawn mowers and agricultural equipment in proper working condition and avoid rocks and other materials which might cause a spark.

Do not weld or cut without a spotter, a water source and a shovel.

Notify the electric power company when dead trees or overhanging limbs endanger the electric wires.  The wires may touch each other or the ground, causing sparks that start fires.

Cigarettes or Other Smoking Materials

Another cause of accidental fires is carelessly discarded cigarettes or other smoking materials.  They can smolder for hours and should be completely doused with water before being discarded in a safe manner, rather than tossed out a window or on the ground.

Texas’ arson law includes felony punishment for anyone whose cigarette recklessly sets fire to a building or injures anyone.  Arson is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but if a person is hurt or killed or if the fire involves a church, arson is a first-degree felony, carrying possible punishment of up to life in prison.




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