COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With much of the state covered in parched, brown grass and brush, Texas Forest Service is warning residents who live along and west of the I-35 corridor to be prepared for dangerous wildfires this week.
Weather conditions are expected to worsen on Wednesday and Thursday as a low pressure system moves over a dry line hovering over the Western Plains. Wind speeds are expected to pick up and relative humidity levels are expected to drop — two key ingredients for dangerous fire weather.
The Western Plains — an area west of a line extending from Wichita Falls to just east of San Angelo to Del Rio — is a particular hotspot, though wildfire officials warn that all areas west of I-35 are at risk.
“People need to be aware of how critical a situation this is, particularly with vegetation that’s so tall and so dry. It’s very easy for a fire to start, spread and get out of hand,” said Tom Spencer, Texas Forest Service Predictive Services department head.
“If a fire starts accidentally in your neighborhood, be on the alert. If they ask you to evacuate, by all means, do it.”
Common in the winter and spring, a dry line separates two different air masses — warm, dry continental air and warm, moist Gulf air. The dry line alone isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Problems can occur, however, when a low pressure system moves over a dry line, which is what’s predicted for this week.
Texas Forest Service is pre-positioning aerial resources in Fredericksburg, Abilene and Sweetwater. The airplanes and helicopters are designed to spot flames and drop retardant on them. The agency also utilized two newly-created wildland firefighting task forces based in Abilene and Fredericksburg.
During the last weekend alone, the agency was called to 30 wildfires that charred almost 5,500 acres. The two new firefighting teams responded to three of the worst fires, joining with fellow agency, municipal and volunteer firefighters to help save more than 50 homes as well as the entire City of Tye, which is just west of Abilene.