USA — Forecasters expect the wildfire potential across the western half of Texas to expand and become more explosive Thursday.
The area of significant fire potential, which had been confined mostly to West Texas and the Texas Panhandle this week, will expand to include North, Central and South Texas on Thursday, according to a Texas Forest Service statement. The expanded high-risk area will be generally west of a line extended from just west of Dallas-Fort Worth to Fredericksburg and Del Rio, according to the agency.
A persistent drought combined with an overabundance of tinder-dry vegetation made for a catastrophic combination this week. The Forest Service has responded to 81 fires in the past seven days that have charred almost 700 square miles. More than 900 firefighters from across the state and 33 other states have been called in to battle the fires.
“The last week has been bad, but now even more people will be at risk. The wildfires could reach down into more densely populated areas,” said Tom Spencer, head of predictive services at the Forest Service.
A fire that’s blackened more than 100,000 acres in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties was 60 percent contained Wednesday. More than two dozen homes and businesses in the Fort Davis area have burned since Saturday, according to the agency. Nobody has been hurt.
Nearly 13,000 acres have burned this week in Tom Green County, but dozens of homes about 13 miles west of San Angelo were saved, according to the Texas Forest Service. The fire was 50 percent contained Wednesday.
In all, more than 500 homes have been evacuated over the past seven days, according to the Forest Service statement.
Bishop Michael Pfeifer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Angelo is leading the 29-county diocese with prayers planned Sunday for rain. People are encouraged to pray wherever they find themselves on Sunday, according to Pfeifer. The priest has asked more than 100 churches to participate, the San Angelo Standard-Times reported.
The Forest Service said last month was the driest March in recorded Texas history. That combined with the usual gusty spring winds and once-lush, now-dead vegetation promoted by last fall’s tropical storms to create extremely combustible conditions.
“We’ve experienced accelerated drying for the last 14 days,” said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for the Forest Service. “We’re really in uncharted territory here where weather will dominate the landscape and vegetation is at record dry levels for this time of year.”