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Officials stress safety during wildfire season

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Fire Safety Graphic

By Chris Edwards
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TYLER COUNTY – The extreme heat of the summer season coupled with drought conditions have, at press time, put 213 of Texas’s 254 counties under burn bans. Tyler County is one of those counties.

Last week, firefighters from several regional volunteer fire departments, along with the Texas Forest Service were dispatched to a location on County Road 3900, off of Recreational Road 255 on Tuesday, to battle a blaze, right after a wildfire had affected more than 3,000 acres in the same area, breaking out the prior week.

During the battling of the blaze, aircraft were called in and began dropping water on the fire. In the efforts, outgoing Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe said around 300 firefighters helped put out the blaze, which affected about 207.4 acres.

County Judge Milton Powers thanked the many agencies that assisted, and the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office, which handled the evacuation protocol for the area.

As of Tuesday, the preceding wildfire, the Shearwood Creek Fire, which began in the Ebenezer Community and eventually crossed the county line into Tyler County, was 95% contained, having affected 3,562 acres.

To date, it is the second most destructive wildfire of this season in the state. A game preserve fire in Walker County, which was 70% contained, affected 4,428 acres.

Despite reported rainfall on Sunday, the county is still under a burn ban. Jobe said in order for the county’s burn ban to be lifted, rainfall would have to be one to two inches per day for two or three days, countywide.

The county’s Emergency Management Office goes by the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) Scale, which is utilized as a standard by the U.S. Forest Service to measure drought conditions.

It references the dryness of the soil and duff layers, and increases for each day without rainfall, but decreases with rainfall.

A news release from the state’s Forest Service stated that on Monday, the Forest Service responded to 15 new requests for assistance on wildfires, which burned up 3,192 acres, statewide.

Actions such as parking or idling in tall, dry grass can spark a fire, as catalytic converters can ignite the grass under the vehicle. Additionally, TFS warns that many outdoor activities, including welding, grinding and mowing can produce sparks that might ignite nearby, dry vegetation.

The Forest Service urges all Texans at this time to protect Texas and prevent wildfires. TFS encourages all Texans to follow these tips to keep safe during wildfire season:
• Monitor local burn bans and other restrictions.

• Monitor local weather conditions and fire activity. Heed warnings from local emergency officials.

• Build “GO” kits with the five “P’s”: People and pet supplies; prescriptions; papers; personal needs; priceless items.

• Create defensible space to help your home survive a wildfire, and to provide safer access for firefighters.

• Report any fires or suspicious activity you see, by calling 9-1-1. Early detection is critical and can help firefighters respond quicker.

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Wildfire causes devastation in region

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A blanket of smoke covered the northeast end of Tyler County, near the Neches River from the rapidly spreading Shearwood Creek Wildfire, which began on Thursday afternoon and affected more than 3,500 acres.  PHOTO COURTESY OF  U.S. FOREST SERVICEA blanket of smoke covered the northeast end of Tyler County, near the Neches River from the rapidly spreading Shearwood Creek Wildfire, which began on Thursday afternoon and affected more than 3,500 acres. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. FOREST SERVICE

By Chris Edwards
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JASPER/TYLER COUNTY – A wildfire that raged through the northeastern part of Tyler County, and started in Jasper County, last week, affected about 3,500 acres, according to emergency management officials. The fire was first reported Thursday afternoon.

As of Monday afternoon, Jasper County Judge Mark Allen said that the wildfire, which began in the Ebenezer Community, and is officially named the Shearwood Creek Wildfire, was 95% contained.

Allen said that firefighters were still working on site on hot spots, which flare up, and that officials with the U.S. Forestry Service will remain in the area for a few more days.

Tyler County Judge Milton Powers issued a disaster declaration on Thursday, and a mandatory fire evacuation, effective as of Monday, for residents living east of County Road 3400 to the Neches River and from RR 255 north to the Neches, up to the county line.

The fire was reported initially around noon by a Jasper resident, Heath Cofty, who called 911 and attempted to put it out himself before it grew out of control.

Cofty alerted others in the area, including the Harmon family, who live about a mile from where the fire broke out. They evacuated, but their home was spared.

“I am so thankful for all the prayers from family, friends, and the community who came together and worked to protect each other from this tragic fire. While the events of the past few days have been scary, I will never forget how our community worked to support each other and lift each other up during this time of need,” said Emily Harmon.

All the regional volunteer fire departments, as well as state and federal agencies engaged with the fire throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with aerial and ground support making “substantial progress” by Saturday, according to an update from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

By Sunday, 3,000 acres had burned, and it was 70% contained. Rainfall in the region helped with further containment. The Shearwood Creek Fire was the largest of four wildfires that occurred over the weekend across the state. With dry weather conditions continuing, statewide, the A&M Forest Service reported that it is continuing to respond to requests for assistance. At press time, 208 counties had burn bans in place, including Tyler and Jasper counties.

In the wake of the Shearwood Creek Fire, American Red Cross volunteers opened a shelter in Tyler County, at Colmesneil High School, and two shelters in Jasper County: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Jasper Harvest Church.

The Red Cross reported on Friday that several people showed up to the shelter at Ebenezer Baptiswt Church, with seven staying overnight. Seven people also showed up to stay at the Colmesneil shelter.

“Our shelters will remain open as long as the community needs us,” a Red Cross representative said.

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Driver License Offices Closed Statewide on Friday

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AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Driver License Division will be updating the driver license system over the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
In order to accommodate the system updates, all driver license offices across the state, along with the Customer Service Center (call center)will be closed on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. No driver license services will be available at any of the offices during this closure.Offices will reopen to resume normal operations on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, after the Labor Day holiday.
Customers will also not be able to conduct transactions onlinethrough theTexas by Texas(TxT) orTexas.govapplications during the system update. This includes renewing or replacing a driver license or identification card, obtaining a driver record and verifying eligibility.These services will not be available from Friday, Sept. 1 – Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023.
Please note, the update does not impact law enforcement personnel using the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS). 
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Update - Pair wanted on sex abuse charges captured in Tennessee

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PairWanted TCB

By Chris Edwards
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TYLER COUNTY – Last week, Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford put out a wanted bulletin on asking for the public’s help in locating Sidney Fletcher McCollum and Amber Leann Carnley-McCollum. On Sunday, Weatherford reported that the pair had been apprehended out of state.

According to Weatherford, Sidney and Amber McCollum were arrested in Sevierville, Tenn., during a traffic stop on Saturday, August 26. They will be extradited back to Tyler County.

Sidney McCollum, 55, faces charges of continuous sexual abuse of a young child and failure to comply with registration requirements. Amber McCollum, 42, is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

According to Bob Stahlke, a public information officer with the City of Sevierville, police were dispatched to a Walmart store in reference to panhandlers. When the officers arrived, they made contact with Amber McCollum, who was holding a sign. The officer asked her about identification credentials, which she said was in her car.

She presented a Texas ID, and contact was also made with Sidney McCollum, who gave his name initially as Charles McCollum, as well as an incorrect date of birth, according to the incident report.

They were both taken into custody when it was discovered that both had active warrants.

Weatherford initially put out a wanted bulletin last Tuesday announcing that Sidney McCollum was wanted, and the next day posted one on Amber. He said both were believed to have left Tyler County. According to jail records, both are being held in the Sevier County Jail.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Registry database, Sidney McCollum has a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender with the county sheriff’s department in his county of residence, annually. His previous two convictions on indecency with a child charges stem from 1998, when he was sentenced to 10 years’ probation on the charges.

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New Texas Laws 2023: Texas speed limits can change based on road conditions

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By Noah Alcala Bach,
The Texas Tribune

On an icy February morning in 2021, slippery roads and limited visibility prompted a chain reaction of crashing cars on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth, eventually leading to a pileup of 133 vehicles that left six people dead.

State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg believes a bill he authored — going into effect Sept. 1 — could have prevented that.

“That’s an instance when we know there were conditions that led to a catastrophic pileup,” Canales said. “It was studied by the federal government and the national highway agency, and ultimately their findings were that variable speed limits could have mitigated and completely prevented this accident from happening.”

House Bill 1885, signed into law this June, empowers local Texas Department of Transportation engineers — without approval from the statewide transportation commissioners — to temporarily change speed limits for a portion of a road or highway. The variable speed limit can be applied during roadway construction and maintenance, as well as inclement weather conditions like heavy fog, ice or rain.

The altered speed limit would be in effect only when it’s posted on signs notifying drivers of the change and it can’t be lower than 10 miles under the regular speed limit.

“If we’re not able to alter or modify the speed limit to reflect the current conditions, safety is in jeopardy,” Canales said.

Canales said there are a variety of mechanisms to notify drivers of the changing speed limit.

“It could be a mobile digital sign that you see, oftentimes used on a trailer, it could be on any of the TxDOT signs, it could actually be a physical sign that is laid over one of the original — it’s whatever communicates to the drivers speed limit change as per state law,” Canales said.

In 2013, House Bill 2204 allowed TxDOT to try a pilot program testing the effectiveness of variable speed limits.

In summer 2014, the agency set up variable speed limits in Temple, San Antonio and Eastland County and collected data analyzed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Canales said the findings helped move this bill along almost a decade later.

“That pilot demonstrated that variable speed limits resulted in a safety benefit at each location where it was implemented. The motorists clearly understood the purpose of it and as that program continued in Texas, it concluded we could benefit from a statewide program, which is what this bill in September will do,” Canales said.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, sponsored the bill in the Senate, applying his experience from two decades ago as a TxDOT commissioner from 1997 to 2005.

He said that once a month he would get a massive binder with different projects and proposals he had to approve. Approving speed limits changes was among those duties, but oftentimes he found the bureaucracy came at the cost of public safety.

Nichols said in the past, similar bills have passed in the Senate but sputtered in the House because members believed it was a strategy to set up speed traps.

“Everybody was concerned and had speeding tickets in their mind, not safety in construction zones,” Nichols said. “We did a little more educating on it this time and it flew through both chambers pretty well.”

The bill passed the House by a 99-47 vote this year. It was approved in the Senate 25-6.

“Transportation is a very nonpartisan issue. The roads belong to everybody,” Nichols said. “I don’t care which party you’re in. All parties want good transportation and safe roads.”

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