Extreme drought leading to busy wildfire season throughout Texas

Rosie Nguyen Image
Friday, August 12, 2022
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This week's severe thunderstorms brought much-needed relief from the heat, but the Texas A&M Forest Service said it didn't bring much rainfall for areas that needed it.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This week's severe thunderstorms brought much-needed relief from the heat, but the Texas A&M Forest Service said it didn't bring much rainfall to areas that needed it. Strong winds and the increased lightning also made things harder for our wildland firefighters.

Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams said lightning-caused wildfires have kept firefighters busy over the past few days, such as the ones in Trinity and Polk counties. In fact, some of their crew members returned Wednesday from a 21-day deployment.

"They were at several major wildfires, but they're gaining that experience of utilizing their training. It makes them better prepared to fight the wildfires back here at home," Williams said.

ABC13 Meteorologist Kevin Roth said Wednesday's storms brought as much as 3.5 inches to some parts of our viewing area. So we asked if it made a dent in our drought levels.

SEE ALSO: Texas wildfires spread as state sees record-breaking heat

"Every drop helps, especially if you're getting inches of rain. Yes, it matters. Yes, it helps. But it's not a drought-buster of rain. We still need a lot more to get out of this drought," Roth said.

Williams advised community members not to be fooled by the showers we saw this week, emphasizing we still need to be on high alert and follow burn bans that are in place. Roth said the ban is still in effect for every county in Southeast Texas, but that could change soon as conditions begin to improve. Currently, 100% of Harris County is in extreme drought.

"It does look like we'll get some significant rain chances through the weekend, and we need that. But as you go forward into next week, we're going to start drying out by the middle of next week. We're right back to hot, dry, and high temperatures in the upper 90s near 100 degrees," Roth said.

Williams said we are just one wind event away from a catastrophic wildfire and referenced the 2011 Tri-County wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes.

"A good example would be a tropical event that would go into Louisiana, where we would be on the dry side, but we'd have high winds for one or two days. That's the type of event coupled with drought conditions where we could really have a major wildfire," he said.

Ryan Burns with Texas A&M Forest Service said approximately nine out of every 10 wildfires are human-caused. Williams said one of the most recently-contained fires in Montgomery County near the Woodforest Golf Club at Fish Creek was sparked by outdoor burning. It charred 60 acres, destroyed most of the property, and threatened surrounding homes. The property owner has been issued a citation for violating the burn ban.

SEE ALSO: Lightning sparks large wildfire at refuge in Brazoria County

Burns said so far this year, there have been 16,995 acres burned across East Texas from 2,090 wildfires. They've had 668 fire personnel from out of state help with suppression efforts, and over the last 24 hours, they've received five new requests for assistance on wildfires across the state. Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that the state would send additional resources to help local fire departments battle wildfires across our state.

Fire officials said they're keeping an eye out on conditions this year, since it's on track to matching one of the worst Texas wildfire seasons on record.

"So the story of this wildfire season, the script is still being written, of course. This is the most significant wildfire season we've seen in a very long time. People often compare it to 2011 and there are certainly some similarities. We're expected to be in this for the long haul for as dry as we are. We are seeing a huge uptick in activity this summer," he said.

Williams encourages residents living in areas near dry vegetation to take the following measures to reduce the wildfire risk to their homes:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors - mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles - anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

To check on drought conditions for the State of Texas, visit the U.S. Drought Monitor's website. To track the latest wildfires in the State of Texas, click here for the Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Viewer.

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