By Adam Russell
COLLEGE STATION – New growth from spring and early summer rains are causing wildfire concern as summer heat and dry conditions have turned much of Texas into a tinderbox.
Dr. Andy Vestal, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service director for emergency management programs at Texas A&M University in College Station, said spring and early summer rains did wonders for producers around much of the state to promote significant growth of range grasses and other plants. However, the normal mid-summer dry down has accelerated statewide since July 1, especially with 100-degree temperatures in most regions.
The drying effect has left forages, grasses and woody material on the ground as potential fuel for wildfires, he said.
“The potential for these to be ignited by dry lightning or a spark from outdoor work, such as welding, or by someone who didn’t take the proper precautions with a burn pile or while grilling, is something people need to be aware of,” Vestal said. “It can be especially dangerous when this dry situation is combined with elevated wind velocity.”
Landowners should be aware of and adhere to local regulations on outdoor burning and prescribed fire planning, Vestal said. County commissioners implement burn bans as appropriate based on information they gather from the Texas A&M Forest Service, local fire officials and weather conditions.
The Texas A&M Forest Service Outdoor Burn Ban map showed 87 counties had implemented bans. The Forest Service’s July 25 Fire Danger Forecast showed most of the state with a moderate level of danger. The El Paso area in West Texas and a few counties in the Rio Grande Valley were under a “high” fire potential forecast, with a very small area in that region under a “very high” level.
Vestal said conditions are expected to worsen throughout the summer and may last for some time as forecasts for the state are calling for a change in weather patterns that will bring less precipitation than the previous 12 months.
Vestal’s rule of thumb, when a burn ban is not in effect, is to ignite debris for a controlled burn of brush or debris during the pre-dawn and early morning hours to avoid winds and utilize remaining dew moisture as another level of control. Fires should never be left unattended, and landowners should always have available water or firefighting tools to maintain and control the spread of flames.
“When conditions are dry and winds are elevated there is no doubt a single spark could ignite a wildfire situation,” he said.
Vestal said the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, https://www.texaswildfirerisk.com, is a good resource when planning outdoor burns or to check on potential wildfire conditions in various regions. The site also gives tips and recommendations on everything from proactively landscaping to protect structures from wildfires to proper ways to a controlled fire and how to be ready in case flames spread.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: The district was