Monday, February 19, 2018

Rusk County bans outdoor burning

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 5, 2018 at 11:58 p.m.

HENDERSON — All outdoor burning is banned in Rusk County until further notice, the Commissioners Court decided Monday.

Commissioners briefly discussed whether to call an unconditional ban or a less restrictive, provisional ban. They chose the more restrictive ban and said they would consider lifting it at next Monday's session.

"We're supposed to get a little rain," Henderson Fire Department Chief Mark Jennings told the court. "But these little rains we're getting, it's gone in 18 hours, probably."

Jennings said volunteer fire departments are making runs "almost daily" as he urged the more strict ban "till we get some significant rain, and everything starts to green up a little bit."

The National Weather Service was issuing a 70 percent chance of rain today, falling to a 20 percent chance Wednesday morning.

The fire ban carries a possible fine of up to $500 and applies only to unincorporated parts of the county. Exceptions apply only for firefighter training, public utility, natural gas and mining operations and harvesting crops.

"We should've had a burn ban two weeks ago as far as I'm concerned," Pct. 1 Commissioner Bill Hale said.

Rusk County joins Marion and Panola counties on the burn ban list in East Texas.

They were among 123 counties statewide under such a ban as of Monday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

In related business Monday, Emergency Services District leader David Burks told commissioners the taxing district distributed almost $1.4 million last year to 16 fire departments serving the county, including a dozen volunteer forces.

The voter-created district operates under a 7-cent property tax.

Burks recommended homeowners contact their insurers about possible rate adjustments after "every county volunteer fire department qualified for reducing the ISO rating."

Insurance Service Office ratings are used by carriers to set premiums and are based on the quality of the water delivery system and firefighter training and equipment.

"(Residents) can contact their insurance and request that the premium be lowered based on the lowered ISO ratings," Burks said.

The district also provided a new water tanker vehicle for the Overton Volunteer Fire Department and is laying plans this year to add a pension or retirement plan for volunteer firefighters, he said.

Racial profiling report

Sheriff Jeff Price's annual racial profiling report showed whites were pulled over 244 times during 2017 out of 340 total stops that year.

Blacks were stopped 75 times, Hispanics 19 times and Asians twice, according to the report.

Of the 340 stops, the report said the race of the driver was known ahead of time once. Twenty searches were conducted, six of those without consent.

"Is there a reason why you're stopping more Caucasians than any others in Rusk County?" Commissioner Harold Howell asked Chief Deputy Charles Helton.

"I think there's probably just more Caucasians here in Rusk County," Helton said. "As you can see, there's no racial profiling going on here."



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