Just slightly more than a week after devastating wildfire ripped through West Texas, forecasters are predicting similar conditions on Tuesday and encouraging residents in the affected area to be prepared to evacuate.
Beginning around noon Tuesday, extremely critical fire weather conditions are predicted in most of the western half of the state, particularly south of Interstate 40 and west of Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Del Rio. The combination of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity create conditions that lead to high-impact fire weather, said Greg Murdoch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“It all points to Tuesday being a day of great concern,” Murdoch said.
Fire behavior analysts with Texas Forest Service are reporting that on Tuesday, rates of spread in grass fuels could reach 4 mph – the equivalent of wildfire burning the length of a football field in one minute. Additionally, flame lengths in grass could reach 12 to 14 feet, or the equivalent of a one-story building.
Sweetwater Fire Chief Grant Madden wants area residents to be extremely careful when doing anything outdoors that involves fire or sparks. "Welding and cutting is discouraged in this type of weather, as well as outdoor cooking and anything that could ignite a fire," he said. "Once a fire gets out of control it could cause a great amount of damage in this weather."
Madden stated that those entering in the Rattlesnake Round-Up cook off should also exercise caution. A brush truck will be staged at the Round-Up for safety precautions.
Texas Forest Service has staged resources – including an incident management team, fire supervisors, bulldozers, fire engines and aircraft – to respond to the potential threat.
“Plans are in place as we prepare for another significant fire day,” said Mark Stanford, fire operations chief for Texas Forest Service. “We staff and respond based on risk, not occurrence.”
So far this year, the state has responded to 287 fires burning 194,510 acres. Fire departments have responded to hundreds more. To date, more than 8,200 structures have been saved, and 282 have been lost. On Sunday, Feb. 27, more than 850 homes were evacuated in West Texas. Officials say the conditions on Tuesday will be similar to what occurred on Feb. 27, although wind speeds will be less than what was experienced on that day.
“While last Sunday was tragic for those who suffered losses, we were prepared for greater damage,” Stanford said. “We believe part of the reason for the reductions was the media work and educational efforts with local government and citizens.”
Residents should avoid outdoor activities that could generate a spark or open flames. Even if your area has had recent rain relief, it could still be in danger of wildfire. Clear combustible materials away from your home and don’t do any outdoor burning until the threat of fire decreases and burn bans are lifted.