Despite how great the weather in Texoma may feel, it is ushering-in a severe fire danger. The Texas Forest Service issued a special statement that fire dangers are extremely high across much of the state. Local Emergency Management Officials are echoing the concern and preparing for any possible fire storms.
The statement, released on the TFS web site says in part:
Weather conditions are expected to worsen on Wednesday and Thursday as a low pressure system moves over a dry line hovering over the Western Plains. Wind speeds are expected to pick up and relative humidity levels are expected to drop — two key ingredients for dangerous fire weather.
The Western Plains — an area west of a line extending from Wichita Falls to just east of San Angelo to Del Rio — is a particular hotspot, though wildfire officials warn that all areas west of I-35 are at risk.
Archer County Emergency Manager Kelly Desautel had been dealing with fires Wednesday afternoon. He describes the conditions well. "Its very, very, very, very dry. We can't get any dryer than this," he said.
That lack of moisture, combined with heat and strong south winds are what poses the greatest risk. Once a fire gets going, it has plenty of fuel to burn. Last year's rain brought significant growth of area vegetation. Now that excess growth is dry and dormant – the perfect fuel for a raging wild fire. "You can go out there and grab a hand full of grass and it will just crumble. That's like putting 10 year old cedar in your fire pit and watching it go up in smoke in 5 seconds… We're just waiting for all the green grass to come up beneath it, the problem is the cured grass is so high and so abundant that it is kind of hard to get rid of it in a short time," he said.
Should the worst-case scenario play out and a massive firestorm ala 2006 breaks out, there are resources in place to fight the battle. "We have some air support available and ready for us," said Desautel.
Cody Rattan with the TFS says there is an armada of men and machines ready to fight flames. "We've got 2 single-engine firefighting air tanker planes in Sweetwater and a heavy-duty helicopter in Abilene," he said. Along with the aircraft are what Rattan refers to as the "Bulldozer Brigade" also staged in the same area. "We've been out fighting large fires already," he said.
That mass of machine puts Desautel's mind a bit more at ease. He says the help is but a call away. "I think at the most the longest time we'd have to wait for a dozer from the forest service would be anywhere from 1 to 2 hours," he said. If that doesn't cut it, the Texas State Guard can be called-up to help.
Beyond the formal resources are a list of local resident that own heavy equipment. Desautel says they are willing and able to spring into action and help out, if the need should arise. "They are just a phone call away," said Desautel.