Texas response to West Coast fires, caution urged at home


Staff Report

Like the rest of the country, Central Texans have been watching the devastating wildfires that have devoured whole towns on the West Coast and are blamed for scores of deaths.

Kyle firefighters at 9/11 ceremony. Anita Miller photo

And like many states, Texas has answered the call for help. Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday announced the state is sending 190 firefighters, 50 fire trucks and 40 command vehicles from 56 departments including the Kyle Fire Department, which is sending 3 firefighters.

Those resources are in addition to 44 firefighters, 10 fire trucks and 2 command vehicles deployed to the area in late August.

Although Texas has not seen any fires near the scale of those burning in Washington State Oregon and California, the state has not been exempt from wildfire. According to the Texas Forest Service, some 2,052 acres have burned in 31 fires since the beginning of September, and that many of those were sparked as a result of human activity like welding and use of tractors and other large equipment. Three fires are responsible for 285 acres burned.

Though the threat persists, recent rainfall has has significantly reduced wildfire activity and the potential for large fire growth.,” The Fire Service said on Friday, Sept. 11, that “there is a low potential for wildfire activity today through Saturday in portions of the Trans Pecos where rainfall has been scattered. There is a possibility for scattered thunderstorms through Saturday in this same region where lightning could ignite fires in dry fuels and cured grasses.

Any wildfires that do start are expected to spread slowly, as cool temperatures, low wind speed and elevated relative humidity do not produce a conducive fire environment for large fire growth.”

Due to significant fire activity occurring in multiple geographic areas across the country and heavy commitment of shared resources to large fires nationally, the National Multi Agency Coordinating Group has raised the National Preparedness Level to Level 5.

Preparedness Levels are dictated by fuel and weather conditions, fire activity, and fire suppression resource availability throughout the country. Level 5 is the highest level of wildland fire activity and indicates heavy resource commitment to fires nationally. The state of Texas is currently at a Level 3 with increased resource commitment and wildfire activity statewide.

In addition to wildfire response across the state, Texas A&M Forest Service personnel are currently assisting with Hurricane Laura response efforts. Twenty-three personnel are providing planning and logistical support for recovery operations to Texas Division of Emergency Management.

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

For frequent wildfire and incident updates, follow the Texas A&M Forest Service incident information Twitter account, https://twitter.com/AllHazardsTFS.

Prevention and Mitigation

Any spark can cause a wildfire.  Hot work—such as welding and grinding—can easily ignite fires in or near your work area. Taking a few extra minutes to prepare your work area prior to welding or grinding can reduce the potential for ignition of these fires, and having a spotter or fire watch can help prevent sparks from becoming wildfires.

When welding, grinding or cutting metal outdoors, follow these precautions to reduce the threat of accidentally starting a wildfire:

  • Remove vegetation and other flammable materials from your work area.
  • Wet the ground around your work area prior to creating any sparks.
  • Assign someone as a fire watch.
  • Keep water and a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Place a welding/fire blanket under your work area to catch sparks.
  • Avoid parking vehicles in dry grass tall enough to touch the vehicle’s exhaust or the underside of the vehicle.
  • Avoid welding during Red Flag conditions or on windy days.

Residents should pay attention to county burn bans and avoid all outdoor burning until conditions improve. Burn ban information can be found by contacting local fire departments or by visiting https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/TexasBurnBans/.

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