Drought conditions have returned to Erath County.
Firefighters have had their busiest month of the year, and a burn ban could be issued in 30 days, according to Erath County Volunteer Fire Rescue Coordinator Chris Gable.
Erath County has moved up on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index to a 300-400 rating and officially re-entered the drought this month.
"The Keetch-Byram Drought Index is a tool we use to determine wild and forest fire potential," Gable said. "Zero represents the best possible conditions while 800 is the worst."
From Jan. 24 - April 30, the county's drought index was 0-200.
Firefighters have responded to five wildfires so far this month - there were seven total last May - and conditions are already shaping up for more widespread fires this summer.
On Monday, three fires sparked across the county, two of which began as controlled burns, officials said.
A grassfire on C.R. 229 in Selden was caused by buried embers from a fire that burned more than a week ago. The landowner burned a large brush pile on May 13 and after believing the fire fully extinguished a week later dumped the ashes and remains into a ravine. Still-burning embers ignited vegetation.
Officials believe a power line likely caused a tree to catch fire near C.R. 299, and on FM 1188 west of Morgan Mill a resident called for assistance when wind pushed a controlled burn into nearby brush.
The recent fire outbreak and worsening conditions have prompted officials to consider issuing another burn ban.
"I don't anticipate commissioners calling a burn ban next week, but this time next month it certainly could be in place, if we don't call one sooner," Gable said.
One of the key indicators used when considering a burn ban is a drought index in the 500-600 range, Gable said.
Counties close to Erath with active burn bans include Wise, Stephens and Young.
"There are more burn bans northwest of Erath towards the Panhandle and west of us toward the Valley," Gable said.
Firefighters have extinguished 13 wildfires so far this year, compared to 50 during the same period last year.
Above average rain helped sprout grass and brush from January to March, but now the abundant vegetation is drying out fast as spring storms subsided in April. Also fueling concerns are forecasters' marginal confidence in increased, long-term precipitation, higher wind speeds leading into the summer and increasing drought index rating.
"The key aspect to burning is using common sense," Gable said. "Simply review weather forecasts, wind speed and direction, and constantly monitor floating ashes and embers. It plays a huge role in preventing wildfires."
If burning can be delayed, residents should wait until conditions improve.
"Just remember, if you light a fire, even accidentally, you are responsible for it," he said.