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Wildfire concerns heat up as drought lingersWildfire concerns heat up as drought lingers

Kay Ledbetter

November 24, 2008

3 Min Read

California won’t be the only state with wildfire issues if drought conditions persist or worsen across Texas, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialists.

Preparation and prevention are much better than mitigation and recovery, said Dr. Wayne Hanselka, AgriLife Extension range specialist in Corpus Christi.

“Parts of Texas are experiencing continuing drought, and those areas with grass that grew as a result of earlier rains are now experiencing wildfire dangers,” Hanselka said.

In preparation for the wildfire season, he said, county courts are beginning to consider imposing burn bans again. The Texas Forest Service has an updated list of counties enacting burn bans at: http://tfsfrp.tamu.edu/wildfires/decban.png.

“Texans have to be aware of fire dangers and the need to be vigilant,” Hanselka said. “Protecting property through installation of fire guards, removing of excess fuel from around homes, barns, facilities and butane tanks are all precautionary moves.”

Even if moisture comes in the next week or two, he said, “an inch of rain won’t last no time. We would need good soaking moisture to minimize the danger, and even then between the rains the fuel will remain dry.”

A forecast for November through February issued by the National Interagency Fire Center indicates that the drought conditions in Central Texas are expected to expand across portions of Texas into Oklahoma throughout the winter.

AgriLife Extension’s Wildfire Incident Response Team is emphasizing preparedness, Hanselka said.

Dr. Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, reminded landowners that now would be a good time to visit with hunters, gas/oil production employees and others who have permission to visit their properties about safety and fire prevention measures.

“Also, even if there are no burn bans in a county, the conditions are still conducive to fires,” McCollum said. “So check the weather forecasts for wind conditions before burning, welding, etc. And make certain there is a means of suppressing a fire that might start as a result of these types of activities.”

In communities where four or five acres surround houses, homeowners need to secure their homesteads and facilities against a wildfire, Hanselka said. Make sure all water hoses and firefighting tools work; make sure sprayers have water in them.

“Having the facilities and tools there, properly placed, can make a difference,” he said.

Larger landowners may need to be thinking about installing firebreaks and fuel management, Hanselka said. Fuel management – shred it, graze it, burn it down – allows a landowner to avoid a situation where fire can do significant damage.

“As a tool in fuel management, removing that fuel is important,” he said. “Whether it’s a welding spark, thrown cigarette or hot box on a railroad, if the fuel is not there, it's not going to go.”

Hanselka said there are tools that land owners can use to lower the risk. Winter is a peak season to do prescribed burning, and under the right conditions it can be effective in mitigating the dangers.

But he also warned that going through the procedure of making sure a prescribed burn is out, completely is also important.

“No cow patty left smoldering,” he said.

Laws and other prescribed burn information can be found at http://www.tamu.edu/ticc/prevention.htm.

More information about protecting against and preventing wildfires can be found at: http://texashelp.tamu.edu/.

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