It’s been a long, hot summer in the Brazos River basin.
Throughout June, most of Texas experienced below-normal precipitation levels, with some portions of west Texas having no reported rainfall at all. The Brazos River basin itself has experienced drought conditions this summer, with widespread abnormally dry conditions and even extreme drought in some areas in the upper basin.
The combination of above-normal temperatures and dry conditions caused most of the state to be three to four weeks ahead of normal dryness levels, resulting in an early increase in wildfire activity in June and early July.
These persistent high temperatures and dry conditions have made wildfires increasingly more difficult to extinguish.
“Vegetation is rapidly losing moisture due to consecutive days of extremely high temperatures,” said Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service Predictive Services Department Head in a recent statement. “Grass that was green five days ago has wilted and turned brown under the accelerated drying produced from the extreme heat. It will be quite difficult to replenish this lost moisture during the normally dry month of August.”
Hurricane Hanna had the potential of replenishing lost moisture in late July. The hurricane that weakened into a tropical depression made landfall along the coast of Texas on July 25, bringing a high amount of rainfall and causing some flooding in southern Texas. The rainfall from Hurricane Hanna did temporarily relieve drought conditions across Texas but did not provide significant aid.
“With Hanna in the rear-view mirror, rain chances will be hit and miss,” the National Weather Service West Gulf River Forecast Center said in an online post on August 4. “No real drought relief is expected in the short term.”
The dry and hot conditions are continuing to provide prime conditions for wildfires. From July 27 to August 3, Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas fire departments reported 47 fires for 4,815 acres in Texas. The current fire potential update from the Texas A&M Forest Service reports that drying fuel beds and increased fire weather will result in continued fire activity throughout the state.
While most of the largest wildfires in Texas have taken place outside of the Brazos River basin, there was a 3-acre wildfire in Palo Pinto County, a 49-acre wildfire in Stonewall County, and a 606-acre wildfire in Haskell County; all were contained. The Texas A&M Forest Service also reported a significant increase in human-caused wildfires across all of Central Texas on July 14.
While the hot temperatures and dry conditions have contributed to this intense Texas wildfire season, many of the wildfires are caused by human activities like equipment use and debris burning. As Smokey the Bear says, “only you can prevent wildfires.”
Richard Gray, the Texas A&M Forest Service Chief Regional Fire Coordinator, asks Texans to be considerate of wildfire first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Much of Texas is primed for wildfires right now,” said Gray in a recent statement. “While it’s important for individuals to take steps to prepare and protect their homes and families for a wildfire, I would also urge Texans to think about protecting our first responders, too—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic—and prevent a wildfire from ever starting.”
Fortunately, there are steps that all Texas residents can do now to help protect their families and property and prevent wildfires. The National Fire Protection Association provides different tips to help protect your home before a wildfire threatens your area.
• Assemble an emergency supply kit and keep it in a safe spot in your home.
• Identify two exits out of your neighborhood and establish a designated meeting place with your family members.
• Use non-flammable landscaping material within the first five feet of your home.
• Screen and seal any openings, as wind-borne embers can go through vents and other openings. Walk around your house to see if you can screen or seal any openings.
• Having a healthy landscape is important to the survival of homes during a wildfire. To be sure your landscape is healthy, make sure your plants are carefully spaced out, low growing and free of resins or oils. Trees on your property should be pruned six to 10 feet from the ground. Water your plants and trees regularly to help sustain good moisture levels.
• Xeriscaping, a landscaping method that is designed for areas that are susceptible to drought, can be beneficial to maintaining a healthy landscape.
• Remove all dead vegetation near your home and clear all debris from gutters.
• Place your firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.
• Store away furniture cushions, mats and other outdoor decorations when not in use.
• If you have livestock, make an evacuation plan for them as well. Common shelters for livestock include fairgrounds, equestrian centers, stockyards and friends’ properties.
If you spot a wildfire growing near your property, contact local authorities immediately. Move patio furniture indoors or as far away from the house as possible. Connect garden hoses and fill any large container with water, then place it near your home. Firefighters have been known to use hoses from nearby houses to help put out wildfires.
There may be an evacuation order if a wildfire is closing in near your property. Before evacuating, make sure all the windows and doors are closed tightly before leaving, including pet doors. Leave with your family, livestock and pets as early as possible with your emergency supply kit and other valuable items. Promptly leaving your home clears the road for firefighters. Return home only when authorities say it’s safe.
For more information about wildfire prevention in Texas, click here.