Drought conditions increase fire risk

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, December 2, 2017

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With less than an inch of rain falling in Wise County during November, drought started creeping back in the area.

Only 0.96 inches of precipitation was measured by local resident Doyle Green in the month, which ended Thursday. The last precipitation was measured Nov. 9, leaving the county 1.68 inches below normal. It was the third straight month of below average rainfall. The county is approximately 8 inches below normal for the year.

The lack of rainfall, above average temperatures and drying vegetation is starting to create potentially dangerous grass fire conditions. Several departments worked a 400-acre grass fire in early November near Slidell.

“There’s a lot of dead vegetation and fuel out there after a mild summer and a lot of grass growing,” said Wise County Assistant Fire Marshal Jeff Doughty.

In the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which measures the wildfire potential by taking into account the soil moisture, the county is at an average of 504 on a scale ranging from 0 to 800. The top end of the scale represents completely dry conditions.

In the current U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, most of the county is in severe drought.

The county currently prohibits burning on days the National Weather Service issues the following alerts: Red Flag, high fire, elevated or critical fire risk.

With the prolonged period of no rain, Lee Carlaw, National Weather Service meteorologist in the Fort Worth office, said there is significant fuel and energy for grass fires.

“The energy levels we’re seeing are well above normal,” Carlaw said.

He did point to some potentially good news with a chance of rain Tuesday with the arrival of a cold front.

“It will send temperatures below or at normal levels and set off some showers,” Carlaw said. “It will not be a total washout, but it could temporarily put a damper on the fuels we see out there.”

But the relief could be temporary with forecasters predicting La Ni a conditions for the winter based on the latest data from the waters in the Pacific. “The hallmark of a La Ni a in the region is above average temperatures and drier than normal conditions in December, January and February. One of the concerns if we don’t get more rainfall is active fire weather.”

The National Weather Service tweeted out grass fire prevention tips earlier in the week, including asking residents to mow around homes and clearing brush and debris around their property.

“Now is the time to take preventative steps,” Carlaw said.

Doughty agreed, cautioning residents doing any burning or welding to have water on hand.

The city of New Fairview banned the sale and use of fireworks in the city as of Friday due to the drought. It also banned burning.

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