COLLEGE STATION, Texas—The footprint of wildfire potential has decreased for a large portion of the state after a multi-day rain event. However, the potential for wildfire ignitions will remain high in southwest Texas where critically dry fuels remain.
Fire environment—weather, fuels and current conditions
As a result of the multi-day rainfall event and cooler temperatures observed earlier this week, the area of wildfire potential has decreased for a large portion of Texas due to improvement in fuel moisture.
“An early, and welcomed, transition from summer to fall has occurred with the multi-day rainfall and cooler temperatures that was observed earlier this week,” said Luke Kanclerz, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Analyst. “A significant increase in fuel moisture has occurred generally east of a line from Amarillo south to Abilene and Austin. Fire potential will remain low in this area due to the increased moisture.”
Due to possible isolated thunderstorms and lightning ignitions on Friday and Saturday in southwest Texas, fire potential will remain high for the area as dry to critically dry fuels are present.
Over the past week, state and local resources have responded to 102 fires that have burned 24,928 acres. This includes many large, multi-day fires including the Smith Canyon Fire in Pecos County that has currently burned an estimated 11,000 acres and is only 25% contained.
Many of the recent wildfire starts have been attributed to human activities—such as equipment use and debris burning—and are preventable. So far in 2020, 1,099 wildfires that have burned 12,643 acres were the result of debris burning. This includes 181 fires that have burned 1,647 acres in August. With thunderstorm activity over portions of the state this past week, there were also several lightning-caused fires.
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 233 hours of flight time over the past week.
Efforts involved dropping 208,198 gallons of water and 101,820 gallons of retardant on multiple fires including the aforementioned Smith Canyon Fire, the Swager Creek in Shackelford County (2,272 acres, 100% contained), the Deep Creek Fire in Shackelford County (3,971 acres, 100% contained) and the Ferguson Fire in Reagan County (1,184 acres, 100% contained).
Aviation resources currently staged in state include two airtankers, two Type 1 helicopters, three Type 3 helicopters, 11 single engine air tankers, three air attack platforms and one aerial supervision module.
Since January 1, 2020, state and local resources have responded to 4,239 fires that have burned a total of 215,603 acres. Aviation resources have flown 2,223 hours, dropping 2,295,490 gallons of water and retardant on Texas wildfires so far this year.
Due to significant fire activity occurring in multiple geographic areas across the country and heavy commitment of shared resources to large fires nationally, the National Multi Agency Coordinating Group has raised the National Preparedness Level to Level 5.
Preparedness Levels are dictated by fuel and weather conditions, fire activity, and fire suppression resource availability throughout the country. Level 5 is the highest level of wildland fire activity and indicates heavy resource commitment to fires nationally. The state of Texas is currently at a Level 4 with increased resource commitment and wildfire activity statewide.
In addition to wildfire response across the state, Texas A&M Forest Service personnel are currently assisting with Hurricane Laura response efforts. Eighty personnel are providing planning and logistical support as well as debris removal assistance for recovery operations to Texas Division of Emergency Management.
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.
Prevention and Mitigation
Don’t let your guard down. Even after rain, wildfires can still be a hazard. Fine fuels, like grasses, can dry out quickly once the rain stops. Storm debris, created during severe weather events like tornadoes, high winds and hurricanes, can also increase the available fuels for a wildfire.
“Across the state, our number one ignition source of human caused wildfires continues to be debris burning,” said Weldon Dent, Texas A&M Forest Service Wildland Urban Interface Specialist. “Waiting to burn until after a rain event may seem like a good idea, but depending on the amount and duration of the rain, vegetation may not have received sufficient moisture to counter the effects of a prolonged dry period. Just because it rained yesterday, doesn’t mean we can let our guards down and cut corners when burning debris.”
Use caution when clearing and disposing of debris, and remember: wildfires can occur at any time, even after the rain.
Here are some tips to help keep you safe and reduce wildfire threat while clearing and disposing of storm debris:
- Wear proper personal protective equipment and use safe work practices while operating equipment such as chainsaws and chippers.
- Always follow local outdoor burning regulations. Check with local officials for restrictions or burn bans.
- Check if your community has an approved communal burn pile or has designated days for debris pickup.
- Be aware of current and expected weather conditions. Delay burning if the weather conditions are, or will be, hot, dry and windy.
- Prepare a safe burning site by clearing at least 10 feet around the burn site of any vegetation or other burnable material. Also avoid any overhead obstructions such as trees, power lines and structures.
- Have all tools and a water source on hand before beginning burning.
- Allow enough time to stay with your fire until it is out cold.
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 here.