Austin
2:00 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Austin Bans Grilling And Smoking Cigarettes In Local Parks

The current extreme drought has parched local parks so badly that the city is moving to ban grilling and cigarette smoking on all 16,000 acres of land in the Parks and Recreation system. That includes parks, playgrounds, city cemeteries, golf courses, and pretty much anything else you can find on this list.

"It applies to the use of wood or charcoal barbeque pits, grills, or smokers," Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Victor Ovalle told KUT News. "Propane stoves are allowed in designated picnic areas only. There's also a smoking ban."

Ovalle says police officers, fire fighters, and park rangers will be going through parks this weekend and asking people to comply with the ban. If they refuse, they can be issued a citation or be charged with criminal trespassing.

A six-month drought has left Austin with less than a third of normal rainfall. Windy days, warm weather, and low humidity add up to a high fire danger, according to local meteorologists.  

"What is so unusual about this is that we're heading into May, and May is typically our rainiest and stormiest month of the year, but it's just not raining," Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told KUT News.

"That's what so bizarre about this spring. We've gone through almost all of April, and we've hardly had a drop of rain. Typically, this is a pretty wet month for us," Rose said.

The tinder dry conditions contributed to an overnight fire in Wimberley that investigators believe may have been started by people grilling on their second floor balcony.  Wildfires have already burned 1.4 million acres of land across Texas, and are currently scorching a large mass of land in northern Mexico. The situation is so dire that Governor Perry is asking people to pray for rain this weekend.