Official: Texas crews rush to fend off 'perfect storm for wildfires'
Faced with some of driest conditions Texas has seen in nearly a century, firefighters around the state are struggling to fight off what a forest service official on Sunday called the "perfect storm for wildfires."
April Saginor, a spokeswoman with the Texas Forest Service, said crews were having difficulty getting hundreds of blazes under control due to a rare combination of strong winds, unseasonably warm temperatures and low humidity. Conditions this spring are the driest they've been in Texas since 1917, she claimed.
Authorities have responded to 7,807 fires across more than 1.5 million acres since this year's wildfire season began, Gov. Rick Perry wrote in a letter late Saturday to President Barack Obama requesting that the federal government declare Texas a disaster area. These have affected all but two of the state's 254 counties.
On Sunday, some 1,300 personnel representing 34 states were on the front lines battling these fires. And, unless there is a drastic and sustained change in conditions, Saginor said she expects the fight to continue for several months more.
"With the winds that we've got today, it's hard to be aggressive with any suppression activities; it's just too dangerous to get in front of that type of fire," Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb told CNN affiliate WFAA. "The fires we're experiencing in some cases are moving four or five miles an hour. That's the length of a football field every minute."
As of Saturday, Texas Forest Service personnel were responding to at least 14,758 acres of new fires -- five of them major -- that broke out during the day. A blend of potent winds, dense growth of flammable material and low humidity have made this a challenging season for firefighters in the state, with 195 Texas counties banning any burning in a bid to prevent more blazes.
Fires burn across Texas with no end in sight
Dozens of large fires burned out of control Monday in Texas in what officials described as unprecedented conditions that show no signs of abating soon.
"We're experiencing conditions never seen in Texas before," said Marq Webb, a public information officer with the Texas Forest Service, which was devoting massive resources to the effort. "Yesterday, we had 1,400 people and that number will go up today," Webb said Monday in a telephone interview from the service's incident command center in Merkel just west of Abilene.
In all, the Forest Service has been asked to help battle fires covering some 700,000 acres, he said.
Thirty-one fires were being fought in East Texas; another 11 fires in West Texas, officials said.
Monday's forecast was worse than Sunday's, "and tomorrow's supposed to be worse than today," he said. Though temperatures are expected to dip Wednesday, they were predicted to ramp back up on Thursday and Friday.
I've been fortunate so far in that wildfires haven't gotten too close to where I live, but my mother mentioned that she stepped out on the porch last night and she could smell smoke in the air. The unseasonably high temperatures have been so strange for this time of year. This is more like what we might experience in late May or in June. In mid March we also had several days that got unusually hot for that time of year. We've had an early start of Spring and it looks like we're having an early start of summer.
Today I was thinking, between the reports of huge numbers of wildfires and tornadoes, this is starting to feel like a surreal disaster movie. I also saw on the news about the tornadoes in other places. I woke up from a disturbing dream this morning. In the dream, it started to sound like a tree might be about to fall on the house, so I rushed to get out and went down the street to warn others and to seek better shelter. It didn't hit, but the dream still felt unnerving. The winds have been really bad lately. I guess the dream was triggered by hearing the reports of wildfires and tornadoes and the sound of the wind. Tonight on the local news they were starting to urge people to be prepared for an early start of tornado season here.