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Red flag burn ban extended; Drought, fire conditions worsen in county

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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Putting Out the Flames

PUTTING OUT THE FLAMES – Newark firefighters hit hot spots at a grass fire on Old Base Road Monday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Shirley Allen thought the fire in her burn barrel was fully extinguished when she went into her residence near the intersection of Old Base Road and Farm Road 718 Monday afternoon.

“When I went into the house, there was not a fire,” Allen said. “An ember must have blown out. I got the water hose and started fighting it.”

A grass fire torched the land around Allen’s home. Newark, Boyd and Rhome firefighters extinguished the blaze.

It was one of multiple grass fires in the county and surrounding area Monday, the same day Wise County commissioners renewed the Red Flag burn ban. The ban prohibits burning on days with elevated fire risk as determined by the National Weather Service Office in Fort Worth.

Fire conditions in the county have been deteriorating over the past few weeks due to newly dormant grasses following recent freezes, high winds, low humidity and unseasonably warm high temperatures.

Monday, the relative humidity dropped to 8 percent at the Decatur Municipal Airport.

Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service Office in Fort Worth, said the combination of dry grasses and low humidity are elevating the fire risk.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot to potentially get [fire] to spread,” Bradshaw said. “What’s the key to us is when the winds pick up.”

He said that winds of 25 mph meet the Red Flag criteria.

No relief in the form of rain is predicted in the extended forecast for the rain-starved region. In the Dec. 5 Drought Monitor from the National Drought-Mitigation Center, most of Wise County is under severe drought. The extreme western portion of the county is abnormally dry.

“Over the past 90 days, Wise County is at 25 to 50 percent of normal rainfall,” Bradshaw said. “It’s worse going east to Cooke and Denton counties.”

Forecasters predicted an elevated fire risk for Wednesday and a critical fire risk Saturday with wind gusts at 25 mph.

The dry, windy and warm pattern is expected to continue through the winter with a La Ni a predicted.

“When this pattern sets up, it limits the storm systems that roll into North Texas,” Bradshaw said.

“It’s not looking promising for rain by the end of the month. We’ll likely be in worse shape.”

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