Texas battles new wildfires as extreme drought continues

September 2nd, 2011 - 2:20 am ICT by BNO News  

AUSTIN (BNO NEWS) — Firefighters in Texas were battling several new wildfires on Thursday as extreme drought conditions continued, although an approaching storm system could bring relief. Dozens of homes have been destroyed.

The largest wildfire is located in Palo Pinto County where some 6,200 acres have been burned, a revision from 7,500 acres reported by authorities on Wednesday. Only 30 percent of the fire has been contained and dozens of homes have already been destroyed.

“The fire is burning on the south side of Possum Kingdom Lake near the town of Brad. Active fire behavior was observed yesterday,” said Tom Berglund, a spokesman for the Lone Star Incident Management Team of the Texas Forest Service (TFS). “Thirty-nine homes and nine recreational vehicles have been reported destroyed.”

Numerous single-engine airtankers, helicopters and three heavy airtankers worked the fire on Wednesday, while nine strike teams of Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System engines are assisting.

But new fires also broke out on Wednesday, the largest near Palo Duro Canyon in Briscoe County. As of Thursday, some 3,000 acres have been burned while the fire has been 40 percent contained. Officials said the fire is burning in juniper and grass in rough terrain.

Two other large fires broke out in Wise and Walker counties on Wednesday. In Walker County, officials reported 500 acres had been burned while 80 percent of the fire has been contained. “Extreme fire behavior was seen yesterday as the fire burned in pine plantation,” Berglund said, adding that two homes were lost in the fire. Two homes were also lost in Wise County, where 200 acres have burned.

Meanwhile, ten other large fires which broke out before Wednesday also continue to burn. The fire in Palo Pinto County is the largest, followed by a wildfire near Legacy in Howard County which has burned 3,400 acres. “Numerous structures are threatened,” Berglund said, adding that 10 percent has been contained. “Fire behavior was minimal yesterday.”

Three other large fires are burning in Coryell County. The largest is 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Gatesville on the Fort Hood military reservation and has burned 1,700 acres. The other is a complex of five fires, totaling 1,635 acres, started by someone towing a barbecue pit. The third is south of McGregor and burned 524 acres.

Other large fires are in: Hall County (1,000 acres, 80 percent contained), Johnson, Edwards County (600 acres, 95 percent contained), Kimble County (600 acres, 20 percent contained), Sutton County (600 acres, 50 percent contained), Bundy Ross Ranch, Edwards County (600 acres, 50 percent contained), and Menard County (300 acres, 95 percent contained).

Texas and surrounding states such as Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico have been scorched by a searing heat wave thriving upon drought conditions. But a broad area of low pressure, located a couple of hundred miles (kilometers) south of the Louisiana coast, is producing a large area of cloudiness, thunderstorms, and gusty winds over the eastern and central Gulf of Mexico.

The weather system is expected to become a tropical depression later on Thursday, and possibly a tropical storm soon after, before it heads in the direction of Texas. The storm could bring relief to the state and ease the wildfires.

Texas is currently battling one of the worst fire seasons in state history, according to officials. In April, TFS responded to 78 fires burning 460,850 acres in seven days. More than 900 firefighters from across Texas and 33 different states were called in to help battle the fires, which prompted the evacuation of more than 500 homes.

The dangerous conditions are caused by two main factors: the ongoing drought and an overabundance of dead vegetation which burns easily. More than 90 percent of the state is suffering from “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska.

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