Increased wildfire potential is expected across much of the state as the holiday’s approach due to approaching dry cold fronts and higher-than-normal temperatures.
Dry fuel conditions will expand north from the southern Hill Country into the Rolling Plains, southern High Plains, eastern Hill Country and Cross Timbers regions this week. These will align with the pre- and post-frontal winds to create an increase in potential wildfire activity.
“Most wildland fires this time of year occur just before or just after a frontal passage,” said Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service Predictive Services Department head. “These fronts often pass through with little precipitation, but they do bring increased wind before and after the front passes. These increased winds can help to spread fire in a landscape that is full of freeze-cured grasses.”
Recent precipitation has favored East Texas and the High Plains, leaving widespread rainfall deficits in much of the western two-thirds of the state. Residents should stay current with local fire weather forecasts due to the rapidly changing fire environments this week.
Texas A&M Forest Service urges everyone to be careful when participating in activities that may start a wildfire or house fire and practice fire safety this holiday season. One spark can ruin a holiday.
Wrapping paper and tree recycling
The danger doesn’t end just because the holidays are over. In Texas, careless debris burning causes the largest number of human-caused wildfires. Unsafe burning of wrapping paper, gift boxes and Christmas trees after the holidays could spark outdoor fires. There are several alternatives for safe disposal, including:
- Chip the tree and use the material as mulch in landscaping beds.
- Cut the trunk of the tree into small pieces to use as pathway edging.
- Composting is a great way to dispose of your tree and tissue paper. Remove tape, ribbons and bows and recycle the wrapping paper or save it to use again.
- Repurpose other items such as newspaper or pillowcases to wrap presents.
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 Texas Burn Bans.
Another fire hazard during the holidays is firewood stacked too close to buildings. Firewood is often cured, or dried, so it is easier to light. This drying process does not just make it easier to start a fire in the fireplace—it makes it easier to start a fire everywhere. When firewood is stacked too close to a home, it can lead a wildfire right up to the structure. Keep firewood stacked at least 30 feet away from all structures.
Fireworks are often used to mark special events and holidays. When using fireworks during the holidays, don’t let your fun turn into flames. Check for local restrictions on fireworks and burn bans before use. Fireworks should be used outdoors on flat, smooth surfaces away from dry grass and flammable materials. Always have a water source nearby in case a fire ignites while using fireworks.
Practice fire safety while enjoying the outdoors
Campfires can be a great source of warmth and fuel for cooking but be sure to keep safety in mind. Locate a safe spot for your campfire, away from anything flammable and far from overhead hazards. Pile up rocks around your fire to help keep the wind out and fire embers in. When you are done with your campfire, fully extinguish it. Drown, stir and feel the area for heat. Hold your hand just above the wet ashes — if you feel any residual heat, continue to add water and stir. Remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
When hunting, be aware of any action that could cause a wildfire. Hot exhaust systems could ignite dry grass. Park only in designated areas or in areas free of anything that can catch fire. Your ammunition type matters when hunting; steel core and full metal jacket ammunition have the highest potential to start wildfires.
People and their activities cause more than 90% of wildfires in Texas.
Fire weather outlook
The National Weather Service has issued a La Nina Advisory, which states there is a 95% chance La Nina conditions will be present through February and a 65% chance La Nina will persist through April. Typically, the La Nina pattern brings warmer and dryer-than-normal conditions to Texas during the winter and spring. This translates to less rain and warmer temperatures leading to dry vegetation for large areas of the state creating an increased risk for wildfires.
“An active winter and spring wildfire season is anticipated across Texas,” said Karen Stafford, Texas A&M Forest Service Prevention Program Coordinator. “Residents can take steps now to protect their homes and loved ones. Texas A&M Forest Service encourages residents to be mindful of any outdoor activity that may cause a spark.”
If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities. A quick response can help save lives and property.