AUSTIN (KXAN) – Nearly 30 Central Texas fires in the KXAN viewing area have burned over 2,400 acres of land so far this year.
Central Texas has had some bad fire years in the last couple of decades as summers have been hot and drought conditions have not significantly improved. One of the worst wildfire years in recent memory was in 2011, when a conflagration burned for 55 days, destroyed more than 1,600 homes, scorched 32,000 acres and claimed two people’s lives.
No fire this year has come close to the destruction that took place almost 12 years ago, but KXAN asked the Texas A&M Forest Service how the conditions this year compare to the ones in 2011.
How do the conditions compare?
“Each fire period of wildfire activity in Texas is different in terms of what leads up to it and [the] triggers behind the increased fire activity,” said Lucas Kanclerz, a Texas A&M Forest Service fire analyst.
In 2011, Texas experienced one of its worst droughts ever. Kanclerz said it lasted throughout the entire year, causing vegetation to become extremely dry and ideal for burning.
In contrast, fire activity this year was trending below normal until mid-July. “But with this recent extreme heat that we’ve seen persistently across a large portion of the state, we’ve seen a rapid decline in both our moisture and our vegetation,” Kanclerz said.
Kanclerz said due to the record-breaking temperatures this year, his department is considering what we are seeing now a “flash drought.”
In addition to the extreme drought in 2011, there was also Tropical Strom Lee that went up through Louisiana and fanned the flames of the Bastrop County Complex Fire.
“So we’re not quite at the level of 2011,” Kanclerz said. “At this point, we’re just dealing more with kind of periods of elevated and critical fire weather, not extreme fire weather like we saw in that labor day period of 2011.”
For a fire to scorch massive swaths of land and continue to burn for days, it takes an extreme level of dryness coupled with fire weather, he said.
“But, any fire, depending on the placement of it, can produce some impacts,” Kanclerz said. “The Parmer Lane fire that was observed yesterday [is] a really good example. [It was] just about 50 acres, but high impact because of the destruction that it caused.”
Not over yet
Kanclerz said conditions were not as bad as in 2011, but there would likely be more fires in the coming days due to more extreme heat in the forecast.
“We really encourage folks to obey the burn bans that are in place. And just be really mindful to reduce the chances of fire igniting through any kind of heat sources and just help protect your fellow Texans from these wildfires,” he said.