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Texas, Hays County battle frequent wildfires

By Megan Wehring

HAYS COUNTY – Wildfire activity has been increasing throughout Hays County and across the state. 

As hot and dry conditions persist, extremely dry vegetation will continue to support wildfire activity across much of the state, even as surface moisture increases in some areas, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The most recent wildfire in Hays County started around noon on Wednesday, July 27, off RM 967 and east of Dove Drive in Buda’s extra-territorial jurisdiction on the Persimmons tract of property. About 89.5 acres were burned and approximately 95% of the fire was contained as of 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1.

Photo courtesy of Hays County
It was all hands on deck to battle a wildfire that occurred in the Buda ETJ that started on Wednesday, July 27.

The fire threatened nearly 200 homes and was started when a driver with a livestock trailer hitched to their vehicle accidentally backed into a utility pole, which caused the electrical wires to sway and spark, according to a news release from the city of Buda.

“All of the emergency crews, from Hays County and Buda fire teams, Texas A&M Forrest Service, Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System strike team, and other surrounding fire departments and agencies, set an example for how fast action and real teamwork should look,” said Buda Mayor Lee Urbanovsky in a news release. “The city of Buda is extremely grateful for their superb response to a potentially very dangerous fire.”

Several crews from around the region helped work the scene including fire departments from Buda, Kyle, North Hays, San Marcos, South Hays and Manchaca. STAR Flight helicopters, the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System also assisted. 

“The coordination among the responding agencies to work swiftly to contain the fire, while also minimizing traffic disruption, was remarkable,” said Micah Grau, Buda city manager. “We extend our sincere gratitude for all of their efforts in keeping this wildfire under control and protecting adjacent homes and property owners.”

Earlier in the same month, first responders throughout the region helped battle a wildfire at the Storm Ranch property off Gatlin Creek Road outside of Dripping Springs over a span of four days. The call came in around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, and the fire was 100% contained on Saturday, July 9.

There is potential for larger wildfires to occur in the eastern and western areas of Hill Country, Cross Timbers and eastern Rolling Plains into early next week, the Texas A&M Forest Service stated.

“As conditions continue to deteriorate for much of the state, we remain proactive in ensuring the state has the necessary resources to respond to any wildfire,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief. “Wildfire activity is occurring across the state, from border to border, and requires a lot of support. Texas A&M Forest Service continues to mobilize additional firefighters, equipment and aircraft, positioning them across the state for a quick response.”

The upper-level ridge of high pressure that is responsible for the hot and dry conditions impacting much of Texas over the past several weeks is forecast to move back over the state Sunday through Wednesday. Widespread triple-digit temperatures will once again appear across the state. With slightly higher wind speeds, the fire environment will support wildfire ignitions.

Persistent temperatures above 100 degrees will continue to draw moisture from live vegetation. Mid-July live fuel samples in the Cross Timbers, Rolling Plains and Hill Country are at critical levels, making tree torching, or the transition of fire from the ground to the canopy of trees, likely with elevated fire weather conditions.

Texas A&M Forest Service monitors live fuel moistures across the state. The data collected from these sample sites are used to determine the condition of vegetation and assist fire managers in deciding where to position resources.

In addition to the 300 Texas A&M Forest Service firefighters, there are 1,080 firefighters from land management agencies across the nation as well as via the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System mobilized by the agency to assist with wildfire response.

Texas A&M Forest Service has also positioned 40 aircraft at 17 airports across the state to respond to wildfire incidents. While the Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources, it used federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.

“We need Texans to prevent wildfires from occurring under these conditions,” said Emily Wall, Texas A&M Forest Service Chief Operating Officer of Forest Resource Protection. “It is imperative that everyone remains diligent with any activity that may cause a spark and check with local officials for burn bans or other restrictions.”

There are currently 224 counties under a burn ban, including Hays County, which is the highest number of burn bans the state has recorded since October 2011. During periods of drought and high wildfire danger, a county judge or commissioner’s court may enact a burn ban to protect the public and prevent human-caused wildfires.

As hot temperatures and dry conditions continue, the Forest Services advises Texans to please consider the following:

• Always obey local burn bans and outdoor burning restrictions. Wait to conduct any outdoor burning or light campfires until the burn ban has been lifted and weather conditions are not extremely hot, dry or windy.

• Nine out of ten wildfires are human-caused. When your county is under a burn ban, residents should avoid outdoor activities that may cause a spark, this includes welding, grinding, and using heavy machinery.

• Many areas of Texas are experiencing high temperatures and dry weather. Residents should stay up to date on weather conditions and always use extreme caution when performing outdoor activities, even if not under a burn ban.

• Some areas of Texas have recently received rainfall. While rain can reduce wildfire danger temporarily, areas with limited rainfall will become dry again. Continue to obey burning restrictions until they have been lifted by your local officials.

Visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/TexasBurnBans/ for current information on burn bans in Texas. To keep track of current wildfires, please visit the Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Viewer response map at https://public.tfswildfires.com.

If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities.

About Author

Megan Navarro (formerly Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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