This weekend’s high winds, warm temperatures and low humidity triggered multiple wildfires across the state and the Big Country.
Lewis Kearney, public information officer for the Texas Forest Service, said a total of 120,000 acres burned across the state over the weekend, mostly West of Abilene and in the panhandle.
The regional fires prompted TFS to set up its Incident Management Team at the regional office in Merkel. Kearney said Sunday’s weather conditions set the stage for a major fire event.
“Sunday you had the components of high winds, low humidity and warm temperatures,” Kearney said. “When you have an ignition those winds push fires really fast.”
Kearney said TFS was called to 30 fires across the state, but was only able to respond to 25 because high winds prevented them from using any aviation assets. He said high winds were the main factor making the fires volatile.
“When conditions are like this, people need to be very cautions. Don’t use fire, don’t burn trash and keep grass really short around homes,” Kearney said. “But sometimes, when nature is in charge and you have fires like Sunday, there is not a whole lot you can do. That’s a fact.”
On Sunday, a major fire began to burn near Lake Fort Phantom. Lt. Greg Goettsh, public information officer for the Abilene Fire Department, said the fire burned for nearly 14 hours and charred nearly 1,000 acres. Goettsh said AFD was first on the scene, but 60 officers from four departments were called in to battle the blaze.
“It was rapidly growing and very difficult to get to,” Goettsh said. “There are very few roads and they are actually mostly cow paths. It was a really difficult area to map, especially in the dark.”
The fire began just east of the lake, near F.M. 1082. Goettsh said the fire had the potential to threaten the Middleton and Robertson prison units, burning to within 1 Â½ miles of the units.
“Being out that long and doing that hard of work was impressive,” Goettsh said. “Those guys took a beating. It was gratifying to see them stick with it that long without it causing any damage.”
Joel Dunn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, said weather conditions for the rest of the week create a moderate risk for grass fires.
“The humidity is still low so we’re at a pretty moderate risk,” Dunn said. “We have no criterion for a warning, but when you have dry conditions you have a risk.”
Dunn said winds would be sustained at 10-15 mph, but humidity levels would stay around 20 percent through the week