Firefighters in Texas respond to 178 wildfires that have burned 108,493 acres over past seven days; Texas A&M Forest Service warns of increased wildfire potential in southwest of state

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas , March 22, 2022 (press release) –

Wildfire potential increases today in Southwest Texas as firefighters continue to contain several large wildfires from Thursday’s Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak

COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Wildfire potential increases today for large, difficult to control wildfires to occur in Southwest Texas, specifically for areas near Del Rio, San Angelo, San Antonio and Laredo.

State, local and federal first responders have been increasingly busy with recent response efforts. Over the past seven days, firefighters responded to 178 wildfires that burned 108,493 acres across the state.

A Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak occurred on Thursday, March 17 across West Central Texas. This weather phenomenon is characterized by extreme fire weather and can be compared to the high impact Santa Ana wildfire events that occur in southern California.

On Thursday, strong winds and critically dry grasses contributed to extreme fire behavior and rapid rates of spread across the landscape. State, local, federal and military resources responded to 20 wildfires that burned 67,533 acres on this day.

“Group torching, the vertical transition of fire from the ground to the canopy of trees, in oak and juniper timber was observed on Thursday,” said Luke Kanclerz, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Analyst. “Embers and flammable material were spotting up to 150 yards away from the active wildfire.”

Several wildfires, including those managed as the Eastland Complex in Eastland and Brown counties, are still actively burning across the state. The more than 54,000-acre wildfire prompted evacuations, road closures and damaged 147 structures. Eastland County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergeant Barbara Fenley died in the line of duty while assisting with evacuations.

“The extreme conditions present across the state last week, greatly impacted several communities and the Texans that live there,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief. “These communities endured significant loss and we grieve with you.”

The Southern Area Gray Type 3 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fires over the weekend, working alongside Texas A&M Forest Service. However, with increasing complexity, the Southern Area Blue Type 1 Incident Management Team has been mobilized to manage the fires and will be in state mid-week to assist.

On Sunday, three new wildfire ignitions in Eastland County were absorbed into the Eastland Complex for management purposes. The complex, now 30% contained as a whole, consists of seven wildfires: Kidd Fire, Eastland County (42,333 acres, 40% contained); Blowing Basin Fire, Eastland County (est. 241 acres, 50% contained); Cedar Mountain Fire, Eastland County (est. 250 acres, 10% contained); Oak Mott Fire, Brown County (4,031 acres, 75% contained); Wheat Field Fire, Eastland County (7,268 acres, 55% contained); Mangum Fire, Eastland County (est. 11 acres, 85% contained); and Walling Fire, Eastland County (383 acres, 100% contained).

Increased wildfire activity was observed on Sunday along and west of I-35 where critically dry grass across the landscape was exposed to elevated to critical fire weather, which included higher wind speeds and low humidity.

Fire resources responded to 37 wildfires that burned 16,081 acres on Sunday, which includes the still-burning Big L Fire in Erath and Hood counties (estimated 11,000 acres and 20% contained) and Ramsey Fire in Brown County (estimated 1,500 acres and 5% contained).

“First responders from across the state, even the country, have answered the call for assistance,” said Moorehead. “The tremendous response effort over the past four days has been nothing short of remarkable.”

Texas A&M Forest Service is monitoring the current situation closely and has prepositioned personnel and equipment across the state for a quick and effective response to any requests for assistance.

Fully staffed task forces and additional suppression equipment are staged in Alice, Amarillo, Beeville, Brownwood, Burkburnett, Childress, Edinburg, Fort Stockton, Fredericksburg, Lubbock, McGregor, Merkel, Mineral Wells, Pleasanton, San Angelo, Smithville and Victoria.

Additionally, fireline supervisors, command staff and incident commanders with advanced qualifications are strategically placed across the state to respond. Resources from 14 states have also been mobilized to Texas to support wildfire response efforts.

Aircraft were heavily utilized over the past week to support suppression efforts on the ground, aiding in the protection of structures and other valuable resources.

Thirty-four aviation resources are currently staged in state, including three large air tankers, 15 single engine air tankers, four air attack platforms, two aerial supervision modules, three type 1 helicopters, two type 3 helicopters, four Blackhawks, one Chinook and one multi mission aircraft.

Eleven strike teams are mobilized via Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS). Texas A&M Forest Service has requested the mobilization of three additional strike teams for wildfire incident support.

Stay wildfire aware. If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities. A quick response can help save lives and property.

For current conditions and wildfire outlook, visit the Texas Fire Potential Outlook https://bit.ly/3kemhbG.

Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.
 

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Dan Rivard
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