Wildfires continue to bring destruction throughout Texas

By Bethany Blankley

Over the past seven days, state, local and federal first responders have responded to 178 wildfires that burned 108,493 acres across the state, the Texas A&M Forest Service reports.

And they aren’t done.

“First responders from across the state, even the country, have answered the call for assistance,” Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief, said. “The tremendous response effort over the past four days has been nothing short of remarkable.”

On Thursday alone, 20 wildfires burned 67,533 acres. On Sunday, 37 wildfires burned 16,081 acres.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 11 counties three weeks after wildfires began in parts of central Texas and a sheriff’s deputy was killed on Thursday.

Resources from 14 states have been mobilized to help Texas combat wildfires.

Now, the forest service has warned that wildfire potential has increased in the border communities of Del Rio and Laredo and farther north in San Antonio and San Angelo.

Wildfire potential increased Monday “for large, difficult to control wildfires to occur in Southwest Texas, specifically for areas near Del Rio, San Angelo, San Antonio and Laredo,” the forest service announced.

This is as firefighters continue to contain several large wildfires from Thursday’s southern plains wildfire outbreak, and residents are bracing for severe weather and flash flooding in other parts of the state.

The Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak occurred Thursday, March 17, across West Central Texas. “This weather phenomenon is characterized by extreme fire weather and can be compared to the high impact Santa Ana wildfire events that occur in southern California,” the forest service said.

Strong winds and critically dry grasses enabled extreme fire to accelerate and spread across the landscape.

“Group torching, the vertical transition of fire from the ground to the canopy of trees, in oak and juniper timber was observed on Thursday,” Luke Kanclerz, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Analyst, said. “Embers and flammable material were spotting up to 150 yards away from the active wildfire.”

State, local, federal and military resources responded to 20 wildfires that burned 67,533 acres on Thursday alone. That same day, Eastland County Sheriff Deputy Sergeant Barbara Fenley died while assisting with evacuations.

Several wildfires, including those in the Eastland Complex in Eastland and Brown counties, are still actively burning. The complex has burned more than 54,000 acres, forcing evacuations, road closures and damaged at least 147 structures.

“The extreme conditions present across the state last week, greatly impacted several communities and the Texans that live there,” Moorehead said. “These communities endured significant loss and we grieve with you.”

On Sunday, three new wildfires were ignited and absorbed into the Eastland Complex. A total of 37 wildfires burned 16,081 acres. The complex is only 30% contained.

It consists of seven wildfires, six of which are in Eastland County. As of Monday, they include the Kidd Fire, which burned an estimated 42,333 acres and was 40% contained; the Blowing Basin Fire, which burned an estimated 241 acres and was 50% contained; the Cedar Mountain Fire, which burned an estimated 250 acres and was 10% contained; the Wheat Field Fire, which burned an estimated 7,268 acres and was 55% contained; the Mangum Fire, which burned 11 acres and was 85% contained; and the Walling Fire, which had burned 383 acres and is the only fire to be 100% contained.

Also part of the Eastland Complex, in Brown County, the Oak Mott Fire had burned 4,031 acres as of Monday and was 75% contained.

The still-burning Big L Fire in Erath and Hood counties has burned an estimated 11,000 acres. On Sunday, residents in these counties began evacuating.

The Ramsey Fire in Brown County has also burned an estimated 1,500 acres and is only 5% contained.

Task forces stand ready with necessary equipment in 17 additional cities of Alice, Amarillo, Beeville, Brownwood, Burkburnett, Childress, Edinburg, Fort Stockton, Fredericksburg, Lubbock, McGregor, Merkel, Mineral Wells, Pleasanton, San Angelo, Smithville and Victoria.

Thirty-four aviation resources are also ready for utilization, including three large air tankers, 15 single engine air tankers, four air attack platforms, two aerial supervision modules, three type 1 helicopters, two type 3 helicopters, four Blackhawks, one Chinook and one multi mission aircraft, the forest service reports.

Eleven strike teams are also mobilized through the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) and the forest service requested that three additional strike teams be mobilized.

The forest service is asking Texans to “stay wildfire aware. If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities. A quick response can help save lives and property.”

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