OPINION

Capital highlights: Wildfire risk remains high in much of state

Doug Hensley
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

Much of the state remains at considerable risk for wildfires through this week, largely because of higher-than-usual temperatures and drought conditions. More than 40% of the state is suffering extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly the entire state is in some form of drought, with much of the Panhandle, High Plains and west central Texas most at risk. 

Gary Borders

Nearly 123,000 acres in Texas have burned in March alone, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Earlier this month, more than 54,000 acres burned in Eastland County, between Fort Worth and Abilene. A sheriff’s deputy died while trying to rescue others from that blaze. 

A fast-moving fire forced Medina County residents near Medina Lake to evacuate  Saturday, according to the San Antonio Express-News. That blaze reportedly started with a vehicle fire and quickly covered nearly 1,000 acres.

Climate change is playing a role in this hot and dry spring, John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, told the Texas Tribune.

“There are enhanced chances of warmer-than-normal weather for literally the foreseeable future because of the combination of La Niña and climate change,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

La Niña is a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. It typically brings colder, wetter weather to the Northwest and drier, hotter conditions in Texas and the South.

Insurance tips after spring storms

It’s spring storm season. 

More than two dozen tornadoes swept through Central and East Texas early last week, damaging about 1,000 homes from Round Rock, north of Austin, to Gilmer in Northeast Texas. The Texas Department of Insurance is available to provide contact information for insurance companies to homeowners and businesses and can also help with questions about how to file a claim. Its Help Line —800-252-3439 — is staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

TDI advises folks to report property damage as soon as possible to their insurance agent or company. Other tips:

• Take pictures and video of the damage. Don’t throw away anything until the insurance adjuster tells you.

• Make temporary repairs, such as covering broken windows and removing standing water.

• Don’t make permanent repairs before the adjuster sees the damage.

TPW awards $12.5 million in park grants

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission last week awarded more than $12.5 million in grants to enhance and expand outdoor recreational spaces at 26 community parks statewide. The money is provided on a 50/50 match and is used to create more nature trails, native gardens, playgrounds, dog parks and athletic fields.

Money was awarded in three categories: cities with more than 500,000 population, cities with less than 500,000 population and towns of less than 20,000 population. A complete list of grant recipients can be found at tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases.

Arlington doctor gets prison time for fraud, drug crimes

A federal judge sentenced an Arlington doctor to 12 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to submitting fraudulent bills for physical therapy and office exams and illegally issuing prescriptions for controlled substances. Dr. Clinton Battle pleaded guilty last July to the charges after an investigation conducted by the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation’s Fraud Unit and federal investigators.

“Health care fraud impacts everyone in the Texas workers’ compensation system, and thanks to the teamwork between the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) Fraud Unit and federal investigators, we were able to ensure justice was served in this case,” said Debra Knight with DWC.

Stuck in the middle with you

This tidbit comes from “Game Warden Field Notes,” compiled from TPWD law enforcement reports:

“Val Verde County Game Wardens received information about a fishing boat that ran aground on the Rio Grande River. The area recently accumulated excess silt from the Amistad Dam. Combined with decreasing water levels on the river, the exposed silt became sticky and acted as quicksand. The two boaters were unharmed but unable to vacate the boat without sinking into the mud.

"One of the wardens moved to an overlook point and located the boat. The wardens confirmed there was no way to reach them through waterways or on land. A call was placed for a helicopter with hoist capability. A municipal helicopter reached the individuals, and the rescue was completed successfully. The boaters did not require medical attention.”

COVID-19 cases, deaths rise in past week

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas doubled in the past week compared to the previous week, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. A total of 37,030 cases and 533 new deaths were reported, both up considerably in what could be a timing issue. New cases, spurred by the omicron variant, have dropped considerably since January.

Reflecting that trend, despite this week’s increase, the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Sunday dropped to 1,245, down 22% from the previous week.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.