Texas Fire Situation Is of "Historic Proportions"

April 21, 2011; 4:25 AM
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Firefighter Craig Howard yells to another fire crew as they take up positions to save a house from a wildfire near Possum Kingdom, Texas, Tuesday, April 19, 2011. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

In what has been described as being almost the "perfect fire storm," a never-before-seen wildfire situation in Texas has led to the scorching of more than 1 million acres and destruction of hundreds of homes and buildings.

"This is a situation of historic proportions," said Victoria Koenig, public information officer with the Texas Forest Service, in a phone interview with AccuWeather.com Tuesday. "The fuels are so dry. The winds are astronomical. The behavior of the winds is a perplexing situation. It's never been like this before."

Koenig added, "When you put all the ingredients together, you're getting close to having the 'perfect fire storm'."

Factors Involved

Texas is in the midst of one of the worst droughts, in terms of the depth and expanse of drought conditions, since the early 1900s.

Dan Byrd, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss., said, "This is an unprecedented drought situation [in terms of] how widespread it is and the depth of the drought. We haven't seen anything like this for the state overall since the early 1900s."

This photo was taken on April 7, 2011, of the Swenson fire that burned more than 100,000 acres in Stonewall, Knox and King counties of Texas. (Courtesy: Texas Forest Service)

Koenig commented, "It's pretty phenomenal and historic. The entire state is involved in this. When you look at the size of Texas, from the panhandle to the coast, you have about 1,000 miles."

According to the latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor on April 12, 2011, the entire state of Texas was experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions with most areas in a severe to exceptional drought.

AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews pointed out that the extreme dry conditions started taking hold in Texas in October 2010.

With the AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecasting Team predicting drier-than-normal conditions to persist right through summer, improvement in the dire situation will not come soon.

Perhaps the only good news in the longer range is the fact that high wind events tend to be less frequent in Texas during the summer than spring. Gusty and rapidly-shifting winds cause fires to spread and burn out of control while posing major challenges to firefighting crews.

Throughout the spring so far, storm systems have been passing through the Plains with high frequency, averaging about one system every few days. In Texas, these storm systems have been generating high winds and extremely little rainfall.

The latest release from the U.S. Drought Monitor, valid April 12, 2011, shows abnormally dry or drought conditions across the entire state of Texas. The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies drought conditions as moderate (tan), severe (light brown), extreme (red) and exception (dark red), with exceptional being the worst.

Details on the Current Fires

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were 22 active fires in Texas as of Wednesday morning. The center also reported that the current active fires have burned more than 1 million acres.

Byrd said Tuesday that the largest fires were affecting areas near San Angelo, the Davis Mountains and the Big Country, which spans a region west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

This image, courtesy of the Texas Forest Service and Google, shows active wildfires across Texas as of Wednesday, April 20, 2011.

Many people have commented on our AccuWeather.com Facebook page that they or their loved ones are being threatened by the fires.

Ashley T. commented [sic], "We are in South East Texas 2 Hrs from Houston and have had fires all around us for 2 weeks. Largest one was 7,000 acres. Most have been ruled arson."

Ann M. stated, "It's burning all around us outside of San Angelo... Any little shift in the wind could bring it right on us."

The Wildcat fire near San Angelo has scorched nearly 160,000 acres and was only 10 percent contained as of Wednesday evening, according to the Texas Forest Service.

As for the Rock House fire in the Davis Mountains, containment remained at 75 percent Wednesday evening with more than 200,000 acres burned.

Winds will be variable in direction across Texas from day to day through the rest of the week.

South-southeasterly winds will prevail across most of the state today. However, winds will be out of the southwest across far western Texas. Southern and far western Texas are the areas where winds will be strongest with speeds between 15 and 25 mph.

Spotty severe thunderstorms will erupt this afternoon across the corridor from San Angelo to Abilene to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Byrd stated that while any rain is good, lightning with some of the thunderstorms could spark new fires.

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