Storm Week: Firestorm

Texoma has two annual fire seasons; one in the winter and another in the summer. This winter fire season may carry over into the spring because of the current drought and last year's abundant rainfall. Cody Rattan, the Regional Fire Coordinator for the Texas Forestry Division says, "There's a heavier fuel loading than there has been in a long time and, because of that, anytime the weather conditions are present, the fuel is there, so there's the potential for large, catastrophic-type fires."

The fuel is basically plant and grass growth from last year that didn't have a chance to burn off during the typical fire seasons. On january 22nd, a grass fire near city view drive, fueled by gusty winds, burned about 400 acres of land before firefighters were able to contain it. The smoke was thick enough to be seen on radar and even caused a few false alarm calls by nearby residents. Other local fire departments are also having a rough time battling wildfires. Captain John Strenski of the Bowman Volunteer Fire Department said, "The recent one that we just had over by Holliday was pretty memorable just for us just because the terrain was so rough. We were just getting it kicked. I had stuff flying all over the cab. It was just a very, very rough fire and the terrain was horrible."

The texas forestry division is on high alert this year and plans to help out local authorities. Rattan stated, "Our primary goal is to assist all the local fire departments and try to help them handle things at the local level, and then once it exceeds the local level, then we'll bring in outside assistance from either Texas Forest Service resources or out-of-state if it comes to that point."

Storm season presents its own set of problems with grass fires. Lightning strikes will sometimes spark wildfires on the dry side of a thunderstorm. With gusty winds from the dry line, cold front, or even the storm itself, a wildfire can spread quickly across texoma. This can quickly put texomans' lives at stake, and emergency management officials are taking no chances. Kelly Desautel, Archer County's Emergency Management Coordinator, says, "Right now, with the season the way it is, we kinda have a program going that, instead of just one fire department getting toned out for a grassfire, we do a double tone and we tone out two different fire departments so we can get that heavy response going right off the bat."

Another precaution often used is the restriction of any outdoor burning by way of a burn ban. This can add insult to injury since many residents living in rural areas have to burn their trash because they don't have access to city trash disposal. Many farmers won't be able to burn and clear out farm land either, but Lee Bourgoin, the Wichita County Emergency Management Coordinator, says a burn ban can be postponed or even avoided completely if residents act responsibly. Bourgoin added, "When people start getting careless with things and they have a burn barrel out in their backyard in the rural areas, where it's legal to burn trash, and if it burns on a windy day or they don't put a lid on it, and we start having a lot more winds, and we start having a lot more frequent fires, then we have to put a stop to that somehow or another, because we just can't keep up with them all. So, as long as people are careful and we don't have a lot of fires due to negligence, we probably won't have a burn ban."