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2017 in Review: Drought, wildfires bookend year

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, December 27, 2017
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Drought

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Around a wet summer that brought beneficial rain, Wise County started and ended 2017 battling drought and the constant threat of wildfires.

After receiving less than a half-inch of rain in December 2016, the parched and dormant grasses created ripe conditions for wildfire. On Dec. 29, 2016, 920 acres burned near Crafton. The blaze started on County Road 1787, quickly consuming 50 to 100 acres. Over two days, the fire burned three structures, including a small barn, an 18-wheeler trailer and a cabin. Firefighters saved 17 structures.

A ban prohibiting burning on high fire danger days was renewed multiple times by county commissioners throughout 2017. In March, it was renewed after the county had received just 1.32 inches of rain – 3.02 inches below normal for the first two months of the year. Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said firefighters had responded to 134 grass fires between Dec. 10, 2016, and March 13.

With more than 15 inches of rain falling in June, July and August, conditions improved until the fall when unseasonably warm temperatures and low humidity levels dried out vegetation and drought crept back in.

On Nov. 2, a spark from a mower blade ignited a 400-acre grass fire near the intersection of Farm Roads 455 and 51. The summer-like temperatures in the low 90s, humidity levels in the teens and southern gusts up to 23 mph fueled the fire that was reported shortly before noon.

Slidell schools were evacuated as a precaution.

More grass fires broke out in November and December after less than an inch of rain fell in November. By Dec. 2, nearly all of the county was in severe drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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