A massive fire around Possum Kingdom Lake and a smaller blaze in Palo Pinto County brought the smell and sight of smoke to Somervell County Friday afternoon.
The Texas Forest Service was monitoring two fires in Palo Pinto and Stephens counties. The largest fire west of Possum Kingdom Lake scorched more than 10,000 acres and destroyed at least 30 homes, the Texas Forest Service said. Several hundred more homes remain in jeopardy.
Another fire in Palo Pinto County burned about 2,450 acres.
Conditions for fire are extremely hazardous today. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag fire danger warning for all counties west of I-35 due to low humidity and extremely gusty winds.
In the last week, massive wildfires raging across Texas have charred nearly a half-million acres — and that figure is likely to grow as conditions are expected to get even worse Thursday.
The area with significant fire potential in recent days has been West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, but that target area expanded Thursday to include parts of North, Central and South Texas.
At risk are all areas west of a line curving down from just west of Dallas-Fort Worth to Fredericksburg to Del Rio. Somervell County remains under a burn ban.
“The last week has been bad, but now even more people will be at risk,” said Tom Spencer, Texas Forest Service Predictive Services department head. “The wildfires could reach down into more densely populated areas.”
In the past seven days, Texas Forest Service has responded to 81 fires that charred 442,461 acres. More than 900 firefighters from across Texas and 33 different states have been called to help battle the blazes, which have prompted the evacuation of more than 500 homes.
The dangerous conditions are caused by two main factors: the ongoing drought and an overabundance of dead vegetation that burns easily.
In Texas, this past March — the month that usually brings spring rains — was listed as the driest month of March in recorded history. That’s compounded by the fact that last fall, tropical storms brought in rains that caused rapid growth in grass and shrubs, vegetation that died during the winter freezes. Those tall, dead grasses and shrubs now serve as a sort of kindling.
Making matters worse are the strong winds, which increase wildfire rates of spread to 3 to 4 mph — about one football field every minute. Though the gusty winds are typical this time of year, the abundance of critically dry vegetation is not.
Residents in affected areas should monitor conditions and information provided by local authorities, and be ready to evacuate should the need arise.
“We’ve experienced accelerated drying for the last 14 days,” said Texas Forest Service Fire Operations Chief Mark Stanford. “We’re really in uncharted territory here where weather will dominate the landscape and vegetation is at record dry levels for this time of year.”