Texas Forest Service On High Alert After Fire Weather Warnings
Strong winds and plummeting relative humidity (RH) have caused the National Weather Service to issue red flag warnings and fire weather watches for large portions of Texas Wednesday and Thursday. Texas Forest Service is pre-positioning personnel and equipment in strategic areas of the state in anticipation of winds in the 20+ mph range with RH forecast in the single digits.
“Many parts of Texas have had hard freezes, the vegetation is dormant and is not taking on much moisture even with the rain that is normally associated with passing cold fronts,” said Tom Spencer, state fire risk assessment coordinator for Texas Forest Service. “While there has been some rain in the past 60 days and the soil has retained some moisture, surface grasses have dried out considerably.”
Conditions will be similar to those of the past weekend where Texas Forest Service responded to more than 50 fires that scorched 2,400 acres. One hundred homes were saved, and ninety evacuations were carried out. On March 12, 2006 – one of the worst days in Texas fire history – more than 900,000 acres burned and 12 lives were lost in fires that occurred under similar fire weather circumstances.
“While we had many fires all across the state last weekend, it could have been worse,” said Paul Hannemann, chief regional fire coordinator for Texas Forest Service. “Information we received from our fire behavior and risk analysis personnel made us aware of the threat and allowed us to be in position to help fight the fires.”
Several major population areas along the I-35 corridor through the Rolling Plains and Hill Country are critically dry. Also included in the critical area is Hidalgo County in far South Texas.
Texas Forest Service is pre-positioning equipment from their East Texas offices in support of the expected fire activity in Central, West and South Texas. In addition, two Black Hawk helicopters have been put on active duty and stationed in Austin through Friday.
“We will be monitoring the weather and fires that start as the week continues,” said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for Texas Forest Service. “The local fire departments are the first responders on wildland fires; however, we are preparing for any situation to which we may be called.”