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Fire threat high for Central Texas after historic winter storm

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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(KWTX) - State fire experts are warning Central Texans about the high fire danger in the area this week, and the increased threat throughout the year as a result of February’s ice storm.

“It’s not the highest danger in the state, but we still have a pretty significant danger.” said Adam Turner, Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator in Mineral Wells for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Waco and Killeen are in kind of that eastern edge of higher fire danger due to elevated winds and higher humidities and temperatures.”

“This is going to be the pattern this year is that as cold fronts move in over the next couple of months, if they blow dry air in, you’ll see an increased danger of fire due to elevated grass loading, and that high wind will cause grass fires.”

March is already the peak period for increased wildfire potential in Texas, however, experts say this year, the threat is even worse due to the historic winter storm.

“Texas is a little unique in that we have two fire seasons: one in the summer, one in the winter, March and April are typically the peak for our Winter fire season.”

“We had kind of a wet Fall and Winter that led to a lot of grass growth this past year, and then with the hard freeze that occurred in the middle of February, all of that grass froze and died, so it suddenly became a really ready and available fuel source for fire,” said Turner. “So with additional increased winds and increased temperatures this week, we’re looking for a potential higher fire danger across Central Texas and moving west towards the Trans-Pecos around Alpine and El Paso.”

The Forest Service will be increasing staffing in prone areas.

“We have staffing levels that are increasing. we will move resources as need to before wind events and things like that. that will continue to occur throughout the next couple of months as we deal with this winter fire season.” said Turner. “Additionally, we have local offices based in Mineral Wells and McGregor, and these offices are staffing occasionally on the weekends to assist with these problems as well.”

He says they’re trying to get ahead of fire season by educating the public on mitigation measures.

“You can put wildfires out with water, but to prevent things from going past that point, since fires can re-start themselves especially during high wind events, putting a dozer line in like we do, it helps stop that further growth of fire,” said Turner. “If there’s nice brown dirt between the burning grass and the next patch of green grass, there’s really not going to be much opportunity for fire to cross that.”

Turner there’s things homeowners and landowners can do to help prevent and manage wildfires, too, or at least buy them some time.

“For landowners, one really simple step is if you have a large pasture of grass, just mow a strip between pastures,” said Turner. “Mow the areas your houses to keep your houses safer, anything you can do to kind of decrease the fuel loading in an area, that will assist local fire departments coming in to help you.”

“Also, during high wind days, winds higher than eight to ten miles an hour, those are days you should not be burning or doing any welding outside, and be careful when operating equipment,” he said.

Turner also recommended creating an evacuation plan in advance.

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