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Texas governor warns of elevated risk of wildfires in several regions

Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a warning Tuesday about an elevated risk of wildfires in several regions of Texas that could last through Thursday.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Texas A&M Forest Service, and the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) are prepared and ready to help, he said.

The Panhandle, Western Plains, Trans Pecos, and the South Texas Plains are bracing for increased risk of wildfires, specifically the communities of Amarillo, Lubbock, Wichita Falls, Midland, Alpine and McAllen.

These regions have experienced significantly warm, dry and windy conditions, which are expected to remain through Thursday. Serious risk of wildfires could grow beyond containment, the governor’s office said.

TDEM is urging Texans to be careful when engaging in outdoor activities that could cause a spark, to follow county burn bans, and avoid all outdoor burning until conditions improve. Fires that ignite in dormant, cured grasses may spread rapidly due to high wind speeds and be more resistant to firefighters’ suppression efforts.

"As Texans in the Panhandle, Western Plains, South Texas Plains, and Trans Pecos area face a significant threat of wildfires, I urge Texans in these communities to heed the guidance of their local leaders and avoid any outdoor burning that could spark wildfires," Abbott said in a statement. "The state of Texas is working alongside local officials and emergency management leaders on the ground to keep our communities safe and mitigate the threat that wildfires pose.”

Texas agencies have resources at the ready, including four Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System Strike Teams and five fire engines prepositioned in Childress, Amarillo, Lubbock, and Edinburg.

In Childress, Amarillo, and Lubbock, three Wildland Fire Task Forces with increased leadership, bulldozers and fire engines have been made available.

In Wichita Falls, Abilene, Brownwood, San Angelo, Mineral Wells, McGregor, Fredericksburg, Smithville, and Fort Stockton, nine Wildland Fire Task Forces including fire suppression resources, bulldozers and fire engines are available.

The Texas Emergency Medical Task Force also has resources on standby to provide dedicated medical response, force protection, and assets for firefighters responding to moderate and large-scale wildland fires.

From Jan. 1 to July 17 last year, state and local resources responded to 3,077 fires that burned 171,204 acres, the forest service reports. In those months alone, aviation resources flew 1,423 hours, dropped 1,335,172 gallons of water and retardants on Texas wildfires.

Nine out of 10 wildfires in Texas are caused by people. Texans are encouraged to practice fire safety measures when outdoors and around their homes.

Texas A&M Forest Services has published free resources to help the public in an event of a wildfire. Its Fire Activity map tracks wildfires in real time, including percentage of containment.

“If a wildfire is spotted, immediately contact local authorities,” Texas A&M Forest Service warns. “A quick response can help save lives and property.”