COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Drought-stricken Southeast Texas could see dangerous wildfires on Thursday as a cold front sweeps through the region, bringing with it gusty winds and dry conditions.
Residents should be extremely careful when doing anything — burning trash, welding, driving through tall grass, building a campfire — that could result in an accidental wildfire. Those who start a wildfire should call for help immediately.
“This is a potentially dangerous day for Southeast Texas,” Texas Forest Service Predictive Services Department Head Tom Spencer said, stressing the potential for large, threating wildfires in the region. “It may be the worst danger and worst threat we’ve seen in Southeast Texas yet for this fire season.”
In the last week alone in East Texas, the agency responded to 35 fires that destroyed three homes and charred 2,300 acres. That’s nearly a quarter of the total homes lost and acreage burned in the region so far this year.
East Texas pine plantations produce the most dangerous wildfires in the state because of the intensity with which they burn. That problem is coupled with the fact that trees, brush and grass have been cured from the ongoing drought.
Almost no rain was recorded in September and October, traditionally two of the wettest months of the year for the region, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.
When an area sees plenty of rain and then it suddenly stops — allowing vegetation to grow and then dry up — it makes conditions ripe for wildfires, Nielsen-Gammon said. Days that combine low humidity with strong winds are especially dangerous, he added.
“The weather for the past several months has set us up for fire danger,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The day-to-day weather will determine how hazardous a particular day is going to be.”
Conditions will worsen Thursday, when the cold front is expected to push through and zap the moisture out of the air, Spencer said. Any fires that do ignite then could spread quickly because of the strong winds blowing through the region.
Spencer urged Southeast Texas residents to devise a game plan — know where you can go and what you need to take with you — in case a wildfire is bearing down on your home and you must evacuate.
“This is a really serious situation,” Spencer said. “There’s potential for very large and threatening wildfires, and these fires have the potential to threaten homes and lives.”