Erratic fires burning thousands of acres, injuring firefighters, destroying structures


By Bethany Blankley

Wildfire potential continues Wednesday for portions of the Panhandle and West Texas as firefighters work to contain several large wildfires that have been ongoing since Monday, prompting evacuations and road closures, and injuring firefighters.

There are 123 personnel from other states currently in Texas supporting wildfire response efforts. Fire crews are battling four active fires, some with extreme behavior, that have already burned over 10,000 acres.

So far, fire crews have fought over 800 wildfires in Texas this year.

There is potential for large wildfires to occur in the Western/Eastern Hill Country and Rolling Plains through Friday, Texas A&M Forest Services warns. Wildfires could impact areas near Childress, Vernon, Abilene, Brownwood, Lampasas, San Angelo, Ozona and Fredericksburg.

Increasing wildfire activity is also likely for Central, East and South Texas. By the weekend, this could change if a cold front moves in as is forecasted.

“Minimal rainfall, hot and dry conditions and an intensifying drought continue to support wildfire activity across the state,” Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief, said in a statement. “Due to conditions, these wildfires are requiring more time and resources to contain. Texas A&M Forest Service continues to support local fire departments and has situated additional resources to the areas of concern.”

On Tuesday, fire resources responded to four wildfires that burned 10,610 acres across the state. Crews are working on carryover fires and responding to additional fires that rekindled and moved across containment lines.

Wildfires are exhibiting extreme behavior, the forest service notes, because of dry live and dead vegetation, increased wind speeds and 100+ degree temperatures. Crews also experienced high resistance to control because the fire doesn’t just stay on the ground but moves up from the surface to the canopy of juniper and mesquite trees.

In Taylor County, the Mesquite Heat Fire is raging. The county already called for evacuations, roads are closed and an unknown number of structures have been destroyed. The fire has already burned 1,500 acres.

In Wilbarger County, fire crews are fighting the Coconut Fire, which has already burned 9,000 acres. The fire is exhibiting extreme behavior due to hot, dry conditions and increased winds. But a thunderstorm also caused erratic winds and a sudden change in fire behavior that led to the injury of two firefighters. Tuesday night, about 10:30 p.m., a thunderstorm caused the fire to erupt burning one firefighter and sending another to the hospital who was treated and released. No other firefighters were injured.

New fires in grass and brush vegetation will likely be resistant to control, the forest service warns, due to underlying drought and critically to extremely dry vegetation and high temperatures.

To fight the fires, the forest services is using 20 aviation resources to augment ground efforts. They include two large air tankers, 12 single engine air tankers, three air attack platforms, two type 1 helicopters and one type 3 helicopter.

Two strike teams are also mobilized through the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System. The forest service also requested the mobilization of eight additional strike teams for wildfire incident support.

Its warning residents 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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