A Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak occurred across the Panhandle of Texas, as well as in Oklahoma and Kansas on Dec. 15, due to extreme dry conditions, above normal temperatures, high winds.
State, federal and local firefighters, to include Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, TIFMAS, responded to five wildfires, three large and still active, for an estimated 23,055 acres burned. This includes the still-burning North 207 Fire in Carson County, the Parker Creek Fire in Oldham County and the Belcher Complex in Wichita County.
“We expected wildfire ignitions to occur under these extreme conditions, and preemptively moved personnel and equipment to areas of concern,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service fire chief and assistant agency director for Forest Resource Protection, College Station.
Wildfires across the Panhandle exhibited extreme fire behavior on Dec. 15. Due to high wind speeds, these wildfires moved quickly across the landscape and were difficult to control, prompting firefighters to use more defensive tactics.
As wind speeds diminished throughout the day and working well into the early morning, firefighters constructed more direct fire lines along the fire’s edge where topography allowed to make significant progress on containing the wildfires.
The North 207 Fire ignited in Carson County approximately 8.5 miles west of Skellytown and quickly escaped initial attack efforts. The fast-moving wildfire prompted local officials to evacuate residents of Skellytown.
Federal, state and local firefighters conducted a tactical firing operation several miles long, between the head of the fire and the town. This operation successfully assisted in pushing the fire north around Skellytown without damage to structures in town.
The evacuations have since been lifted and forward progression of the fire has been stopped. The fire is currently an estimated 15,000 acres and 30% contained.
The Parker Creek Fire in Oldham County ignited south of Channing and spread rapidly through tall, freeze-cured grass to be approximately 14 miles long and a half mile wide. Several roadways throughout the fire area were closed as a result but have reopened. The fire is an estimated 7,000 acres and 75% contained.
The Belcher Complex in Wichita County is comprised of five wildfires in proximity that are being managed as one. The complex is burning approximately 5 miles southeast of Iowa Park and is currently 1,119 acres and 95% contained. Several roadways were closed because of the wildfire but have reopened.
High winds caused limited opportunities to use aviation resources. Two large air tankers and three single engine air tankers dropped 11,569 gallons of fire retardant throughout the afternoon and effectively helped slow the spread of the wildfires.
“Life safety, of both the public and first responders, will always be the No. 1 priority,” Moorehead said. “All personnel involved demonstrated teamwork and coordination for a quick, effective and safe response.”
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.