Texas Wildfires Flare in Dry, Windy Weather

AUSTIN, Texas, January 31, 2008 (ENS) – Texas Governor Rick Perry has issued a State Disaster Proclamation for more than half the counties in Texas as a result of wildfires that began Tuesday. The governor’s order makes 152 of the state’s 254 counties eligible for state assistance.

“I urge Texans to exercise extreme caution as conditions remain favorable for the development of wildfires across the state,” said Governor Perry. “Vigilance and good judgment are key to ensuring Texans’ families, homes and places of work remain safe.”

Texas fire crew sees tries to contain
a fire near Bastrop earlier this
month. (Photo courtesy Texas
Forest Service)

High winds and lack of rainfall have dried grass and other vegetation across the state, raising the danger of fire.

“These regions of the state, from Dumas to Midland to San Angelo to San Antonio to Sherman did not receive much if any rainfall the past seven days,” said Brad Smith, fire behavior analyst for Texas Forest Service. “Warm, southwest winds and some sunshine today over these areas will help to dry out the cured grasses in advance of tomorrow’s critical fire weather.”

These strong, drying winds and lower relative humidity could cause large, significant wildland fires in the dry grasses across the High Plains, western North Texas, Southern Plains and the Hill Country.

In addition, a major cold front entered the state this evening with sustained winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour in some areas.

“These fronts are expected to cross every two to three days, and it is very important to monitor your local National Weather Service fire weather forecast to determine the exact timing for any frontal passage,” said Smith. “The NWS forecasters are the experts at forecasting the timing and strength of these fronts.”

To address the threat, seven Texas Military Forces utility helicopters have been activated and are stationed in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas/ Forth Worth and one CH-47 helicopter is currently on standby in the Dallas/ Forth Worth area.

The Texas Department of Transportation is providing fuel for Volunteer Fire Department personnel and assisting in suppressing the fires. The Public Utility Commission of Texas is restoring power.

Texas State Operations Center reports that there are 24 fires across the state, 37,000 acres have burned; and an estimated 24 homes were destroyed.

The largest fire has burned 12,000 acres 18 miles east of Hebronville in Duval County about mid-way between Corpus Christi and Laredo. Sixty-five firefighters are working to contain the blaze, which officials say was caused by human activities. An investigation is underway.

The State Operations Center remains at the highest level of activation to monitor the situation. The Governor’s Division of Emergency Management is coordinating state support for local officials.

“We are constantly monitoring the fire weather and fuel dryness throughout the state,” said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations. “We move the firefighters and equipment to those areas we believe are most critical.”

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