Fires are surging across Texas, with the Texas A&M Forest Service lifting the preparedness level from 4 to 5.
Fire Chief Wes Moorehead reports that the increase is due to the rise in fire activity with the potential for fires to become more severe and, therefore, harder to control.
Texas A&M Forest Service conserves and protects the resources and lands of the Lone Star State.
It works with US agencies, local governments and fire departments to monitor and protect forests.
“We had a lot of rain across the state, so it suppressed wildfire activity. We didn’t start picking up a lot of wildfire activity until June, and it was almost like the rains completely shut off in June.”
“Over the last seven weeks, we have just seen those conditions worsen and deteriorate. Every day we get another 100-degree day in Texas, it furthers out what little moisture is left in those fuels; that is one reason we elevated the preparedness level.”
As of Tuesday, the A&M Forest Service projected a very high to extreme fire danger forecast for broad state regions, including areas along the I-35 corridor between Dallas, Waco, Austin and San Antonio, and extending west to Abilene and Wichita Falls.
Regions with increased risk also include areas east of I-45 and south of I-20, near Jacksonville, Center, Lufkin, Crockett, Huntsville, Woodville, Cleveland, Kirbyville and Jasper.
Mr Moorehead said he expects conditions to continue to dry out.
“We are having a few fires in the Brazos Valley right now,” he said.
“And conditions will continue to deteriorate, so it would not surprise me if we see increased fire tempo in this region.”
As of Wednesday, state and local firefighters were busy responding to 140 wildfires that burned 13,393 acres, according to Erin O’Connor, a Texas A&M’s Forest Resource Protection program specialist.
“This summer, with our conditions, our fires with the vegetation are holding heat a lot longer, so it is taking more time for our firefighters to contain them fully.”
“They might not be actively moving and racing across the landscape, but we will have crews on them for four, five or seven days because the vegetation is still holding heat, and there is potential for it [move] over, even if they are small acre fires.”
Texas A&M is exhibiting what they call ‘extreme fire behaviour,’ Ms O’Connor said.
“So the fire transitions from the surface to the canopies of the trees and moves quickly that way, or strong embers in front of the active fire.”
As it stands, 96% of fires burning throughout the state were inadvertently lit by humans doing their everyday activities.
“When you have hot and dry conditions like this, fire is not always the first thing on your mind,” she said.
“In the summer, our most common fire causes are debris burning, and those roadside starts; people dragging a trailer or boat and the chains carry on the road or pull off into dry grass, and the catalytic converter starts a fire.”
According to KBTX Meteorologist Shel Winkley, ten fires have ignited in Brazos Valley since the start of the summer, primarily small fires that burn out quickly.
He projected that the Brazos Valley would see a “surge of tropical moisture this week.”
“We aren’t going to be able to do anything with [that moisture] rain-wise probably, but I hope that the relative humidity in the afternoon doesn’t drop as fast,” Mr Winkley said.
“Because what is happening now is that there is drier air in the mid-level of the atmosphere, so once the sun comes out and that wind starts mixing down into that atmosphere, it brings down that drier air, which is why we have had the red flag warnings because the humidity falls below 30%, we had the wind and things like that.”
In 2011, during the region’s worst drought in memory, the Brazos Valley only had about 10 inches of rain.
“Our 2011 and 2022 were the records for the hottest summer temperatures we have ever had,” Mr Winkley said.
“Last year, we were in stage three of four droughts, and we were 8 inches behind on rainfall; this year, we are just now getting into stage 1 drought, and technically we are only behind by 2.5 inches of rain.”
“But the reason is that we had doubled the rainfall we normally get in April.”
April was such a big rainy month, and every month has been dry.
According to Mr Winkley, “If you look at the numbers for June, July, and August, the average temperature for those three months is already above the 2011 and 2022 average for summer. … I believe this will be the hottest summer we have ever experienced.”