Above: A map of the northern part of the Texas panhandle shows the three large fires in the area. The dots represent heat detected by satellites, with the red ones being the most recent.
In addition to the wildfires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma, firefighters in the northern part of the Texas panhandle have been very busy in the last two days. According to the Texas Forest Service on Tuesday, at least 436,000 acres have burned in three large fires.
Two homes were destroyed in the 315,135-acre Perryton Fire in Ochiltree, Lipscomb and Hemphill counties. The fast-moving wind-driven fire threatened the towns of Higgins and Glazier.
The Lefors East Fire southeast of Pampa in Gray county burned 92,571 acres.
Just north of Amarillo the Dumas Complex of fires in Potter County was spread by winds gusting over 50 mph to blacken 29,197 acres.
The videos below shows the conditions the firefighters have to occasionally work in.
There are reports that five civilians, not firefighters, have been killed in wildfires in recent days in Texas and Kansas.
In Gray County, Texas, approximately 60 to 80 miles east of panhandle city of Amarillo, three ranch hands were killed as they were moving cattle out ahead of a fire, according to Judge Richard Peet. In Texas county judges are responsible for suppression of wildfires.
Another person was killed in Hemphill County, Texas near Oklahoma border.
The Kansas Highway Patrol says 39-year-old Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, jackknifed Monday while trying to back up his tractor-trailer on highway 34 in Clark County due to poor visibility from the fires. He was killed after he got out of his vehicle.
Above: Charred Pitaya cactus in Big Bend National Park during the Powerline Fire, February 2, 2017. NPS photo.
A year ago the Powerline Fire burned 1,792-acres near the headquarters of Big Bend National Park in south Texas. Since then a tireless camera has been taking photos of a particular area. When they are put together in a time-lapse fashion the resurgence of the vegetation is enough to convince anyone to stop using the word “destroyed” when describing the effects of a wildfire.
I almost decided not to post the video below because unfortunately the resolution of the photos is very, very poor, but check it out for yourself.
Pushed by strong winds over the last couple of days the Coyote Fire in Guadalupe Mountains National Park has grown by approximately 1,770 acres to about 13,590 acres. The fire started May 7 in the west Texas park and spread across the border into New Mexico.
After being downgraded from a Type 2 fire to a Type 3, it was escalated back to a Type 2 after the fire began spreading again on May 22. Richard Nieto’s Type 2 incident management team arrived May 24.
The National Park Service has not provided any information on InciWeb about the fire since 5 p.m. on May 23.
KRWG has an article about a fire crew comprised of veterans being assigned to the fire. Below is an excerpt:
New Mexico State Forestry is sending two crews from the Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighters program to aid wildfire suppression efforts at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. One crew arrived at the park today and a second is pre-positioned in Ruidoso in Lincoln County.
The Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighter Program was created to provide veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces with training and work opportunities to fight wildland fires. Previously a pilot program, Returning Heroes was made permanent and signed into legislation by Governor Susana Martinez in 2014.
(UPDATED at 12:52 p.m. MDT May 24, 2016)
While we are waiting for an update from the National Park Service about the Coyote Fire in New Mexico and Texas, we’ll post this graphic showing the wind gusts out of the southwest and west at weather stations in and near in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The updated forecast for the fire area for Tuesday is for southwest winds of 22 gusting to 32, 87 degrees, and a relative humidity of 7 percent. Wednesday will be about the same, except the sustained wind speed will be 32 mph with gusts as high as 47 mph. Strong winds are in the forecast through Saturday.
(UPDATED at 5:25 p.m. MDT, May 23, 2016)
Pushed by very strong winds, the Coyote Fire in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas flared up again, prompting the park to re-escalate the management structure back to a higher qualified Type 2 incident management team. Originally there was an initial attack organization running the fire, then a Type 3 team, then Type 2, then Type 3, and now it is going back to a Type 2 team. Transition periods from one team to another can be dangerous.
Strong winds on Sunday “pushed fire further past Bush Mountain ridge toward Guadalupe Peak” according to a news release by the park. We believe this area is on the southwest side of the fire and on the map is above the word “Park” in “Guadalupe Mtns. National Park”.
The weather forecast predicts very strong afternoon winds to continue through Thursday. Sustained winds during the daylight hours will be in the 25 to 35 mph range with gusts from 35 to 50 mph. The minimum relative humidity will be from 6 to 10 percent, and no rain is expected the rest of this week.
Only 10 percent of the fire is being fully suppressed. The other 90 percent is a combination of Confine, Monitor, and Point Protection strategies. The fire has been burning for 17 days. The longer a fire is allowed to spread without suppression, the greater the chance of encountering a wind event that could change the complexion of the incident.
On May 16 the National Park Service said they are “actively monitoring” the Coyote fire, which has burned 11,820 acres in western Texas and southeast New Mexico.
Yesterday: There was limited new growth on the fire yesterday. However, fire managers continued to actively monitor the fire as some heat remained in interior pockets of unburned forest debris and brush.
Today: Red flag weather conditions, including strong winds and low humidities, are predicted to develop over the fire area today. Crews will continue to monitor the fire for any wind driven flare-ups. Some interior smoldering is likely to continue, producing light, visible smoke.
“Although there was limited growth yesterday, we will remain vigilant,” said Eric Brunnemann, Superintendent of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. “This is still an active fire area and may remain so for some time.”
Above: a screen grab from The Atlantic’s documentary about a fire crew from Mexico that assists a U.S. National Park.
The Atlantic produced this seven-minute documentary about Mexican citizens, Los Diablos, that help Big Bend National Park in southern Texas conduct prescribed fires and suppress wildfires. The crew assisted with the Powerline Fire that burned about 1,800 acres in Big Bend in February.
Here is how The Atlantic describes the video:
In Texas, Mexican firefighters are saving the Rio Grande. Known as Los Diablos, or “the devils,” the elite firefighting crew is hired by the National Park Service to fight wildfires and conduct controlled burns along the border. The river provides water to more than 5 million people in the U.S. and Mexico, and sustaining its flow is vital. The water in the Rio Grande is already 150% over-allocated. In this short documentary, The Atlantic follows the group’s conservation efforts to rid the river of giant cane, an invasive plant that narrows the river and threatens native plants and fish.
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.