Continued hot and dry conditions across much of the state have resulted in increased wildfire activity, particularly in north Central Texas and in areas along the Interstate-35 corridor. Activity and fuel dryness is expanding north and east into higher population centers, including further east along the Interstate-45 corridor as well.
Fire environment—weather, fuels and current conditions
Consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures across much of the state has accelerated the drying in wildland vegetation and created a conducive environment for the ignition and spread of wildfires.
“We are seeing a significant increase in wildfire occurrence that coincides with the current streak of 100-degree days,” said Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service predictive services department head. “Many of these wildfires are starting late in the day, or early evening, when we observe daily peak heating and an increase in gusty winds.”
A cold front that is forecast to move into the state early next week will likely end the streak of 100-degree days, but is not expected to provide enough rainfall to improve the vegetative dryness that is supporting wildfire activity.
For current conditions and wildfire outlook, check out the Texas Fire Potential Outlook: https://bit.ly/3kemhbG.
Over the past seven days, state and local resources have responded to 94 fires that have burned 5,483 acres. This includes many large, multi-day fires including the still-smoldering Pennington Creek Fire in Palo Pinto and Jack Counties at 2,654 acres and 95% containment. Activity in central portions of the state increased this week with new fires in Brown, Mills, Caldwell, Williamson, and Bastrop Counties.
Many of the recent wildfire starts have been attributed to human activities—such as debris burning—and are preventable. So far in 2020, 902 wildfires that have burned 10,994 acres were the result of debris burning. This includes 16 fires that have burned 104 acres over the past week. Aviation resources continue to assist ground crews with water and retardant drops to slow forward progression of fires and douse hotspots across fire areas. Fire suppression aircraft have logged approximately 87 hours of flight time over the past week. Efforts involved dropping 148,240 gallons of water and 33,697 gallons of retardant on multiple fires including the Pennington Creek Fire in Palo Pinto and Jack Counties, the Smith Fire in Mills County (252 acres, 80% contained) and the All Hands Fire in Coleman County (619 acres, 100% contained).
Aviation resources staged in state include two Type 1 helicopters, two Type 3 helicopters, nine single engine air tankers, one heavy air tanker and two air attack platforms.
Since Jan. 1, 2020, state and local resources have responded to 3,330 fires that have burned a total of 171,204 acres. Aviation resources have flown 1,510 hours, dropping 1,517,151 gallons of water and retardant on Texas wildfires so far this year.
If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities. A quick response can help save lives and property. For frequent wildfire and incident updates, follow the Texas A&M Forest Service incident information Twitter account, https://twitter.com/AllHazardsTFS.
Prevention and Mitigation
The majority of wildfires in Texas are human-caused. With hot and dry conditions statewide, many counties in Texas are currently under a burn ban. During periods of drought and/or high wildfire danger, a county judge or commissioner’s court may enact a burn ban to protect the public and prevent human-caused wildfires.
“Across Texas, we are experiencing a hot and dry weather pattern, which is creating critically dry fuels that are highly susceptible to ignition,” said Karen Stafford, Texas A&M Forest Service prevention program coordinator. “Texas A&M Forest Service is reminding residents to be mindful of any outdoor activity that may cause a spark.”
Here are some things to know before you burn any debris:
- Learn before you burn. Contact your county officials to ensure your county is not currently under a burn ban or other outdoor burning restrictions.
- Many areas of Texas are experiencing high temperatures and dry weather. Residents should stay up to date on weather conditions and always use extreme caution when performing these outdoor activities even if not under a burn ban.
- Always obey local burn bans and outdoor burning restrictions. Wait to conduct any outdoor burning or light campfires until the burn ban has been lifted and weather conditions are not extremely hot, dry, or windy.
- When burning debris, choose a day when winds are under 10mph and the humidity is high in your area.
- Keep the debris pile small and have a 10 ft. area cleared around the pile. Always keep a water source nearby.
Residents should pay attention to county burn bans and avoid all outdoor burning until conditions improve. Burn ban information can be found by contacting local fire departments or by visiting https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/TexasBurnBans/.