Firefighters are looking to the skies for much-needed rain this week as crews continue battling wildfires across the state. Fires reported Sunday by the Texas A&M Forest Service were being fought in Brown, Taylor, Wilbarger, Llano, Schleicher and San Saba counties.
“Minimal rainfall, hot and dry conditions and an intensifying drought continue to support wildfire activity across the state,” said Wes Moorehead, TFS fire chief. “Due to conditions, these wildfires are requiring more time and resources to contain. Texas A&M Forest Service continues to support local fire departments and has situated additional resources to the areas of concern.”
Burn bans are in effect in 131 counties, covering nearly all regions of the state with the exception of East Texas.
More teachers added to task force
The Texas Education Agency added 24 more teachers to the Teacher Vacancy Task Force formed in March, bringing the number of teachers to 26 — the same number as administrators originally chosen. TEA drew criticism when it announced the original task force, with just two teachers selected.
“Teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student outcomes,” said Mike Morath, Texas education commissioner. “And the Teacher Vacancy Task Force will further ensure our ability to provide the best guidance, support, and resources to help schools find and retain the teachers they need for all their students. Having these two-dozen additional perspectives from a diverse and talented pool of Texas classroom teachers is going to immensely benefit the important considerations before the Task Force.”
Public school systems both large and small across the state are facing a severe staffing shortage, exacerbated by a flood of retirements and resignations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force hopes to develop strategies for addressing the problem.
‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign underway
Buckling up is always a wise idea, but not doing so could cost drivers a ticket as the Texas Department of Transportation conducts its 20th annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign with enhanced enforcement statewide.
“Since its launch in 2002, the Texas Click It or Ticket campaign has saved nearly 7,000 lives,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done over the decades and the countless hours put in by our law enforcement partners. But there are still far too many preventable deaths on Texas roads.”
Texas officers and deputies will step up enforcement of the state’s seat belt and child car-seat laws for the next two weeks. Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to be properly restrained. Children under the age of 8 must be in a child-safety seat unless they are taller than 4 feet 9 inches. If a child is not secured, the driver faces fines up to $250.
Tree-killing insect confirmed in Dallas County
The presence of the emerald ash borer (EAB) was confirmed last week in Dallas County. The county has been added to the list of Texas places under quarantine to slow the spread of the insect.
“EAB is a destructive, non-native wood-boring pest of ash trees,” said Allen Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service regional Forest health coordinator. “Since 2018, we have deployed nearly 500 traps across Central, East and North Texas annually watching for the insect’s presence and movement.”
Native to Asia, the aggressive pest has killed millions of ash trees since entering the country 20 years ago. In Texas, it has been confirmed in Harrison, Bowie, Cass, Dallas, Denton, Marion, Parker and Tarrant counties.
Texas A&M Forest Service works with communities under state quarantines restricting the movement of wood into and out of impacted areas.
TDI data breach exposes personal data
A state audit released last week reported a breach of personal information of 1.8 million workers who filed claims with the Texas Department of Insurance. The department said the personal information included Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth and other personal information.
The breach occurred “because of an issue in the programming code in the department’s web application that manages workers’ compensation data. The issue in the code allowed members of the public to access a protected part of that online application,” the Texas Tribune reported.
In response to media reports, TDI said it promptly fixed the programming code error when it was discovered and that there was no evidence to date that there was a misuse of information. It is providing a year of free credit monitoring and identity protection services to those whose data was exposed.
Number of COVID-19 cases remains steady
The number of new cases of COVID-19 cases reported in Texas during the past week stayed steady at 26,798, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, with 58 deaths reported in the state. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state rose slightly to 859, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
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: [email protected].