Wind-driven wildfires scorched over 17,000 acres and claimed several homes in Texas over a five-day period spanning the Thanksgiving holiday, and the wildfire threat isn’t over. Fire weather forecasters predict dry weather this week for most of the state, with particularly dangerous conditions expected to occur on Wednesday.
“West of Interstate 35 remains at very high to extreme risk of wildfires, but elevated risk also extends to the western side of the piney woods region in northeast Texas,” said Tom Spencer, state fire risk assessment coordinator with the Texas Forest Service. “Grasses and weeds across the northwestern two-thirds of the state are now dormant and fire-prone. This vegetation has the potential to fuel very dangerous, fast-moving wildfires any time dry, windy conditions occur and an ignition source is present. Large fires that occurred in Montague, Wilbarger, Parker, Eastland and Wise counties over the weekend attest to the fire threat that exists.”
From November 23-27, state and federal firefighters assisted local firefighting resources on 61 fires that scorched an estimated 16,929 acres. One of these fires, in Montague County, claimed six homes, five vehicles and a travel trailer and was still uncontrolled Monday morning. The largest fire during the period started Sunday in Wilbarger County. It had burned an estimated 10,000 acres and also remained uncontrolled as of Monday morning. Firefighters blame a propane popgun, of the type used to scare off crows, for igniting a blaze on which a Lee County firefighter received burns on his hands, arms and face.
Local fire departments battled numerous other blazes during the period, according to the Texas Forest Service, but accurate totals on fire numbers and acreage burned weren’t readily available. Many of the wildfires across the state resulted from escaped debris burning, according to TFS regional fire coordinators.
Winds associated with the frontal passage fanned fires out of control through already fire-prone, freeze-dried grasses and weeds in north and north central Texas. Only southeast Texas counties received significant precipitation over the weekend, said Spencer.
Strict compliance with bans on outdoor burning and postponement of campfires and household trash and brush pile burning during dry, windy conditions are strongly recommended, says Gary Bennett, chief law enforcement officer with the Texas Forest Service.
Violation of an outdoor burning ban is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a possible fine of up to $500, said Bennett. He also indicated that a burn ban doesn’t have to be in effect for a person to be charged with a burning violation.
“Carelessly allowing your fire to escape and burn onto a neighbor’s property is also a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500, and arson is a felony offense,” stated Bennett. “Arson is punishable by a prison term from two to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Using proper outdoor fire safety practices can prevent unwelcome surprises like wildfires, senseless destruction and criminal violations.