Dry Conditions Lead to Increasing Fire Danger in Southeast Texas

Texas Forest Service is sending fire crews and related resources to Southeast Texas, where extremely dry conditions are resulting in an increasing risk of dangerous wildfires.

State wildland firefighters have battled 39 wildfires spanning 296 acres in Southeast Texas this month, alone. The vast majority of the fires have started as a result of irresponsible debris burning or arson — 15 and 14, respectively.

Compounding the threat in Southeast Texas are the scores of trees that remain on the ground after being knocked down by Hurricane Ike and other previous hurricanes. Dead, dry trees make for good kindling, Texas Forest Service fire officials explained.

Without significant rain, the dry fuels — dead or dry grasses, plants and trees — will likely lead to an increase in the severity of Southeast Texas wildfires for some time to come.

“In any year, the landscape of Southeast Texas presents many challenges to wildland firefighters and fire managers,” said Brad Smith, fire behavior analyst with Texas Forest Service. “It’s my opinion that the wildland fuel modifications brought by Hurricane Ike will definitely increase the severity of wildfires in the area.”

Texas Forest Service analyzes weather daily to determine the fire danger facing different parts of the state. Currently, fire danger across Southeast Texas is considered “high” or “very high.” Most vegetation in that same region is considered “critically dry” or “extremely dry.”

Kenneth Myrow, dispatcher with the Texas Forest Service office in Livingston, encouraged residents in the region to be especially careful with all outdoor fires and equipment use.

Fires in Southeast Texas pine forests with significant yaupon underbrush are harder to control and extinguish because of the intensity of the fire, as well the way trees burn from the bottom up. Spotting, which happens when the wind carries embers that ignite new fires, also is common.

“Residents should make sure outdoor burning is allowed before starting any outdoor fire,” Myrow said, noting that some counties have implemented burn bans. “It’s dry. It’s very dry.”

In addition to manpower, Texas Forest Service also has stationed a helicopter in Southeast Texas. The air support is there to help contain and extinguish wildfires, as well as help save homes and buildings threatened by wildfire.