Texas firefighters busier than last year

The Texas Forest Service released this graphic showing that more acres have burned this year compared to the same period in 2015. The brown (or orange) bars and line are acres burned in 2016, while blue represents 2015.

HERE is a larger version of the graphic.

Red Flag Warnings, February 8, 2016


The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings for areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and California.

In the California counties of Ventura and Los Angeles 20 to 35 mph northeast winds with gusts of 40 to 50 are in the forecast until 6 p.m. tonight. The Texas and Oklahoma areas under Red Flag Warnings from noon until 6 p.m. CST tonight will experience relative humidities in the teens with wind gusts out of the north to northwest at around 30. Firefighters in south-central Kansas should expect 20 to 30 mph northwest winds gusting to 45 mph along with a minimum humidity of 30 percent from noon until 7 p.m. CST tonight.

The map was current as of 8:45 a.m. MDT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site.

Evaluation of fatal explosion in West, Texas

Above image: A screen grab from the video produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board about the explosion in West, Texas in 2013.

You may remember the terrible fire and explosion that injured 260 people and killed 15 in the small town of West, Texas April 17, 2013. Ten firefighters died. The incident occurred at the West Fertilizer Company when 30 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board just released this excellent video with professional quality animations explaining how it occurred. They also point out some training, zoning, and regulatory issues that if implemented may have prevented a large-scale catastrophe.

Powerline Fire burns near headquarters of Big Bend National Park

(UPDATED at 7:35 p.m. CST February 5, 2015)

Big Bend National Park reports that the 1,792-acre Powerline Fire is 98 percent contained. They will begin demobilizing firefighting resources Saturday.


(UPDATED at 5:42 p.m. CST February 4, 2016)

Below is an updated satellite map of the Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas.

Map Powerline Fire 148 pm CST 2-4-2016
Map showing heat detected by a satellite (the red squares) on the Powerline Fire at 1:48 p.m. CST February 4, 2016. The fire appears to be spreading toward the southwest.  Some areas of the fire, especially east of the road, burned and cooled between satellite over flights, and were not detected. The park headquarters and employee housing area can be seen north of the fire.


(UPDATED at 10:55 CST, February 4, 2016)

Powerline Fire
Poweline Fire in Big Bend National Park, the afternoon of February 3, 2016. NPS photo.

Better mapping has revealed that the Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas had burned 1,537 acres as of 5 p.m. CST on Wednesday, which is a revision of the earlier estimate of 1,995 acres.

Late on Wednesday the park reported that the fire had approached the southern side of the road between Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, but it had not jumped the road since Monday February 1st and there was no active fire on the north side of the road.

Powerline Fire map
Map of the Powerline Fire for the February 4 operational period. Park Headquarters and the employee housing area are just northwest of the fire. NPS.

Continue reading “Powerline Fire burns near headquarters of Big Bend National Park”

Fires break out in Texas and Oklahoma

On the above photo the red squares indicate heat from a wildfire detected by a satellite at 1:39 p.m. CST, January 30, 2016.  At that time the fire was two to three miles south of Eula, Texas.

Strong winds and low relative humidities have promoted the growth of several large wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma. One of the blazes causing evacuations, the High Line Fire, is about 12 miles southeast of Abiline, Texas, north of highway 36 and two to three miles south of Eula.

The National Weather Service announced at about 6 p.m. on Saturday that an evacuation has been requested for the Eula area.

Several structures have already caught fire. Residents are urged to evacuate to the north toward Interstate 20. Evacuation shelters have also been set up at the Eula High School, and the First Baptist Church in Clyde. The Red Cross will be on scene at these locations after 6 p.m.

A spokesperson from the Callahan County Sheriff’s Office said the suspected cause is a power line.

Portions of west Texas and Oklahoma are under a wildfire Red Flag Warning.

A fire 20 to 25 miles south of Oklahoma City, southwest of Norman between Blanchard and Goldsby is also causing problems. It put up a large amount of smoke that was detected on weather radar, which is represented by the color blue on the map below.

Confusion about responsibility for suppression of wildfires?

In an article that is very timely, with another disastrous fire burning homes in Bastrop County Texas this week, Donald F. Kettl published an article in Governing exploring what he calls “confusion” about who is responsible for fighting some of the largest and most damaging wildfires. Below is an excerpt:

…Local residents increasingly expect a response that is federal and instant.

Nowhere was this more the case than during the 2011 Texas wildfires, which burned more than 3 million acres and devastated Bastrop County, near Austin. Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who represents the area, hammered the U.S. Forest Service for failing to pre-position a giant DC-10 aerial tanker that the state could use whenever a wildfire should happen to erupt. When the Bastrop fire started, the Forest Service’s contractor fleet was busy in California, fighting an outbreak of wildfires there. The Forest Service shifted a DC-10 to Texas, but residents were infuriated as the plane sat idle for two days on a runway while Bastrop burned.

Why was the plane idle? The DC-10’s crew had to adhere to mandatory rest requirements. Furthermore, ground crews had to build a facility to supply flame retardant for the plane. But all that missed a larger issue, according to Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation. At an oversight hearing that McCaul held in Austin after the disaster, Harbour pointed out that the Forest Service was only responsible for fighting the fires on its lands, which accounted for just 0.1 percent of all the land involved in the 2011 Texas fires. The agency had deployed its teams to help on nonfederal lands “because our friends in the Texas Forest Service asked us to help.” And they needed that help because Gov. Rick Perry had cut funding for the state’s own forest service.

But truthfully, the feds would have been in Texas no matter what. After all, firefighting has become an interagency, intergovernmental affair.

And there’s no doubt these interagency partnerships have vastly improved firefighting, but they have also blurred responsibilities, raised expectations for the federal government’s help and shifted local costs to the federal budget, even when the problems are caused by nature and the prime responsibility for attacking them rests in state and local hands. The strategy that so greatly improved the management of fires has, paradoxically, deeply confused who’s really responsible for dealing with and paying for a huge problem that is only growing.