Rick Perry, Governor of the State of Texas, issued an Emergency Disaster Proclamation on December 21, 2010, as extreme fire hazard posed a threat of imminent disaster in specified counties in Texas. The disaster proclamation was subsequently renewed on January 19, 2011. Weather and fuel indices indicate that the 2011 Winter Fire Season is moving into a more active phase. After a short lull in activity during January due to the Arctic Oscillation, La Nina conditions are now returning to the state and expected to dominate the weather pattern into April. This increases the potential for large and destructive wildfire occurrence over the state, and represents a serious threat to citizen safety. The primary causes for this increased threat are:
- Existing and continued drought
- Winter winds due to progressive fronts
- Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak
- Above normal fuels (grass and brush)
- Increasing fire activity, size and risk
During the last seven days alone, Texas Forest Service has responded to 47 fires that covered more than 30,000 acres. On Thursday, Feb. 17, a 1,044-acre fire ripped through Tom Green County in West Texas. Based on current and forecast conditions, state and national fire analysts are expecting significant fire risk with the potential for large, damaging fires to continue and escalate through March and into April. Though the major threat for wildfires and grass fires is in North and West Texas at this time, Fort Bend County and surrounding counties are still at risk from fast spreading grass fires.
On February 16th, the State of Texas State Operations Center (SOC) received a report of a 300 acre fire in Wharton County. The fire was contained. The fire was a controlled burn of rubbish, by the property owner, that spread out of control. Several outbuildings were threatened and saved. There were no reports of injuries or fatalities. El Campo, Louise and Danevang Volunteer Fire Departments responded.
As reported by KHOU.com on February 18, 2011, fast-moving flames burned more than 100 acres Thursday in the Orchard area of Fort Bend County. Firefighters chased down the blaze as it spread over a two-to-three-mile stretch of land. They said they believe sparks from a train started the fire. There were no injuries reported. Click here for Video of Orchard Grass Fire.
Also on February 18th, the SOC received a report of a fire in Brazoria County. The fire occurred on State Highway 35 at Farm to Market Road (FM) 1459 near FM 1301. The fire was contained, but, for a period of time, SH 35 at FM 1459 was closed due to heavy smoke in the area.
Wharton County currently has a Burn Ban in effect. No such ban is in effect in Fort Bend County at this time, but the County’s Fire Marshal’s Office is keeping a keen eye on the situation. If dry weather continues and the risk of grass fires increases, the County Fire Marshal will recommend the implementation of a Burn Ban to the Commissioners Court.