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Wildfires plague East Texas, conditions expected to worsen

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Firefighters from across the state are being stationed throughout East Texas, ready to battle a surge in wildfires predicted because of the ongoing, dry conditions in the region.

With no rain in the forecast and vegetation that is critically dry, significant wildfires are expected to plague the eastern half of the state throughout this month and possibly longer.

As a result, five fire engines, a helicopter, an observer plane and 12 firefighters have been sent to East Texas, where they will join with existing resources. They are stationed in Linden, Marshall, Nacogdoches, Kirbyville and Olive.

“The No. 1 underlying cause is drought. We’re actually at near-record levels of drought in East Texas for the last 15 years,” said Tom Spencer, Texas Forest Service Predictive Services department head.

Unlike the rest of the state, East Texas missed out on much of the rainfall from tropical storms earlier this year, Spencer said. Carrying the drought into the winter under La Nina conditions is a possibility that’s concerning, he noted.
In just the past week in East Texas, there have been 190 fires that spanned nearly 1,500 acres and destroyed five homes, according to Texas Forest Service fire statistics.

Without significant rain or moisture, the region could continue to be plagued by wildfires throughout the winter, Spencer said. He urged residents to use “extreme caution” when doing anything that potentially could cause a fire.

Any fire that starts under these conditions will be hard to extinguish, he said.

“The most dangerous fire type in the state is in East Texas — the pine plantations,” Spencer said. “They’re so high in intensity and so hard to put out. They can burn for days. And they threaten not only resources, but homes and lives. Everyone needs to be on high alert.”

Wildfire Safety Tips

  • Obey outdoor burning bans. Don’t burn trash or debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush, household trash and other debris is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Texas.
  • If conditions are right and there is no burn ban in place, you may burn debris. But before you ignite the fire, you’ll first need to create a wide firebreak around material to be burned. Stay with your fire until it is out cold.
  • If camping or hunting, check local restrictions on campfires. Use an approved gas stove as an alternative for heating and cooking. If charcoal grills are permitted, use them only over fire proof surfaces such as asphalt or bare mineral soil.
  • Dispose of smoking materials properly. Extinguish them in an ashtray. Don’t throw them out your window.
  • Avoid parking and idling in dry grass. Catalytic converters can get hot enough to ignite the grass.
  • Keep water available when using welding equipment or cutting torches around grass and brush. A five-gallon bucket of water with a tote sack in it could prove valuable if sparks or hot pieces of metal catch nearby grass on fire.

Avoid setting hot chainsaws or other gas-powered equipment in dry grass, which could ignite after coming into contact with hot mufflers

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