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Early drought conditions worry Fayette County leaders

Fayette County has the second-most declared disasters in Texas and faces extreme weather every year, from droughts to hurricanes.

FAYETTE COUNTY, Texas — Drought conditions came early to Fayette County this year.

"It's something we've had before, but what's historic this year is how quickly the heat has come and how long it has lasted," Fayette County Emergency Management Chief Craig Moreau said.

According to Moreau, Fayette County has the second-most declared disasters in Texas.

"We get it all: we get the tornadoes, we get the fires, we get the droughts, but we also get the hurricanes and the effects from a hurricane," Moreau said. "We had hundreds of homes under water during Hurricane Harvey."

With the heat and dry conditions arriving early, ranchers like Rick Schilling see the impact now and later in the year.

"2011 is the closest comparable, but in 2011 … we had some rains in the spring and it didn't get dry until, you know, later. We had an opportunity to make some hay in the spring, but this year, there's just been, you know, basically almost zero hay production," Schilling said. "As a rancher, what you have to do is, you have to make your hay during the summer, well, you know, during the growing season because you feed the hay during the winter when there's no green grass."

RELATED: Travis County commissioners taking a closer look at water supply

Without green grass growing in his pastures now, Schilling jokes that his pastures are full of "standing hay." However, he learned his lessons in 2011 after the drought forced him to sell half his herd, some 120 cattle. At the time, he started making changes to his ranch so he and his cattle could better survive another drought.

"When I bought this ranch, they were basically three pastures. I cut it up into 13 different pastures. That way I could rotate the cattle and not have them on one pasture too long," Schilling said. "I've done grass planning and brush control too as two other important factors."

Even with his conservation efforts as a supporter of the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the drought still brings concerns. Muldoon Fire Chief Stephen Kelly worries fires have a greater chance of getting out of control quickly.

RELATED: Kyle amends stage 2 of its drought contingency plan

"If any fire gets started, it's going to be more devastating and more difficult to control than in normal times. We haven't seen heat or drought like this in a very long time," Kelly said. "It taxes all of your resources because you've called mutual aid in, and so now you're pulling resources from their districts and their departments and things like that."

Firefighters in Fayette County were called to a quickly extinguished brush fire just outside La Grange on Tuesday. Kelly and Moreau added that even if fires are put out quickly, neighbors need to be extra aware and careful.

"The best thing that we want to get out there to everybody is don't burn. Don't do anything that might cause a spark: if you pull a trailer, you know, your chains and things like that," Kelly said. "I'd say don't barbecue, but if you're going to do that, make sure there's no issues there. Just think about it."

"It's way better if we can stop them from happening in the first place. Don't drive over dry grass. Don't drive over high grass. If you're going to mow, raise the blade a little bit, so it's not producing sparks. Absolutely no using any fireworks right now or any outdoor flame because one spark and can lead to a multi acre fire, could cost somebody their home and could cost somebody their life," Moreau said.

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