Wildfire threat increases amid hot, arid conditions around the state
- Writer: Adam Russell, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact: Dr. Andy Vestal, 979-862-3013, email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION – New growth from spring and early summer rains are causing wildfire concern as summer heat and dry conditions have turned much of Texas into a tinderbox.
Dr. Andy Vestal, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service director for emergency management programs at Texas A&M University in College Station, said spring and early summer rains did wonders for producers around much of the state to promote significant growth of range grasses and other plants. However, the normal mid-summer dry down has accelerated statewide since July 1, especially with 100-degree temperatures in most regions.
The drying effect has left forages, grasses and woody material on the ground as potential fuel for wildfires, he said.
“The potential for these to be ignited by dry lightning or a spark from outdoor work, such as welding, or by someone who didn’t take the proper precautions with a burn pile or while grilling, is something people need to be aware of,” Vestal said. “It can be especially dangerous when this dry situation is combined with elevated wind velocity.”
Landowners should be aware of and adhere to local regulations on outdoor burning and prescribed fire planning, Vestal said. County commissioners implement burn bans as appropriate based on information they gather from the Texas A&M Forest Service, local fire officials and weather conditions.
The Texas A&M Forest Service Outdoor Burn Ban map showed 87 counties had implemented bans. The Forest Service’s July 25 Fire Danger Forecast showed most of the state with a moderate level of danger. The El Paso area in West Texas and a few counties in the Rio Grande Valley were under a “high” fire potential forecast, with a very small area in that region under a “very high” level.
Vestal said conditions are expected to worsen throughout the summer and may last for some time as forecasts for the state are calling for a change in weather patterns that will bring less precipitation than the previous 12 months.
Vestal’s rule of thumb, when a burn ban is not in effect, is to ignite debris for a controlled burn of brush or debris during the pre-dawn and early morning hours to avoid winds and utilize remaining dew moisture as another level of control. Fires should never be left unattended, and landowners should always have available water or firefighting tools to maintain and control the spread of flames.
“When conditions are dry and winds are elevated there is no doubt a single spark could ignite a wildfire situation,” he said.
Vestal said the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, https://www.texaswildfirerisk.com, is a good resource when planning outdoor burns or to check on potential wildfire conditions in various regions. The site also gives tips and recommendations on everything from proactively landscaping to protect structures from wildfires to proper ways to a controlled fire and how to be ready in case flames spread.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: The district was very hot and dry. There was no rain, but precipitation was in the forecast. Pastures, dryland Bermuda grass meadows and cotton showed drought stress. Flies were increasing in most cattle herds. Livestock were doing well. Some brush work was being done, and many counties were now in a burn ban. Milo was getting close to harvest. Corn and grain sorghum harvest was underway. Stock tank levels continue to hold. Overall range and pasture conditions were 75 percent fair, and 85 percent of crops were rated good. All livestock and cattle condition scores were good, and 75 percent of counties reported fair soil moisture.
ROLLING PLAINS: Temperatures rose to some of the warmest levels so far, and no moisture was received. Excessive heat was beginning to stress rangelands and pastures. Wheat producers worried about August and September moisture for wheat fields. Cattle producers worried about cattle prices, and hay producers were scrambling to sell hay. They were hoping for rain in the next few weeks. Second cutting of Bermuda grass was underway. Livestock were in good condition.
COASTAL BEND: Hot, dry weather continued in most areas. The sorghum harvest was near completion with normal yields reported, and corn harvest was underway with only a few fields left to harvest. Varying yields were reported. Cotton harvest began, and many fields have received defoliate already. However, dryland cotton fields suffered from extended hot and dry conditions while irrigation of fields continued where it was possible. Wharton County was under a burn ban. Pastures and hay fields were becoming dry, but cattle were still finding plenty to eat.
EAST: Conditions around the region remained extremely hot and dry. Heat advisories were issued. Herbicide applications were slowed by 100 degree days. Pond and creek water levels continued to drop. Pasture and range conditions were good to fair. Hay harvest has slowed. Forage conditions continued to decline. Pastures were drying up fast. All counties need rain. Topsoil moisture conditions were short to very short with subsoil reported as adequate to short. Scattered showers brought rain to some areas with amounts ranging from 1-2 inches. Producers in Jasper County were cropping hay, and the scattered showers probably caused some damage. Smith County producers hoped to get additional cuttings of hay as dry weather slowed production. Army worms were reported in Cherokee, Gregg, Smith and Jasper counties. Grasshoppers, stem maggots and feral hogs were also reported across the region. Livestock were doing fair to good. The cattle market was lower in Houston County, but stayed steady in Gregg County. Weaning and selling of market-ready calves and cull cows continued.
SOUTH PLAINS: Counties experienced extremely hot, dry weather conditions which have affected topsoil and subsoil moisture levels. Producers were irrigating. Cotton was really hit hard by high temperatures. Several fields have already reached physiological cut-out at five or fewer nodes above first position white flower. Cotton in Dawson County was having a hard time holding fruit and making bolls. Dryland cotton could be in trouble if a soaking rain does not arrive soon, and irrigation on fields was struggling to keep up with water demands. Grain sorghum and corn were both highly variable in how they have taken the heat. Some hail damage to corn and cotton fields was reported in very isolated areas. Peanuts were generally doing okay. The heat hampered some pegs from penetrating soil and forming pods. Pastures, rangeland and wheat needed moisture. Sugarcane aphids were found in grain sorghum fields in very low numbers. Grass growth from early summer rains was drying out and was becoming a potential wildfire hazard.
PANHANDLE: Hot, dry and windy conditions continued in the district. Soil moisture levels were mostly short. Rain was needed throughout the region. Conditions were stressing crops. Recent rains helped cotton fields in Collingsworth County mature quickly. Many of the acres were setting bolls, and heat unit accumulation was pushing the crop forward at a rapid pace. Pastures were beginning to decline due to excessive heat and limited moisture. Corn was pollinating and in peak water demand. Irrigation was active in corn, sorghum, cotton and soybean fields where available. Some corn acres may be abandoned unless producers divert water to fields. Grasshoppers continued to cause damage. Some spider mites appeared in corn. Ranges continued to decline from lack of moisture. Supplemental feeding will likely begin soon if drought conditions continue. Fire danger was high. Grain sorghum was doing OK but will need water soon. Sunflowers were in the four-leaf stage. Insect problems were still light. A few aerial applicators sprayed insecticide on corn. Fly control on cattle continued. Range and pasture conditions varied from poor to fair with most reporting good. Cattle were in good condition.
NORTH: The district experienced its hottest temperatures so far and dried considerably. Topsoil moisture was short and decreasing. Grain sorghum had headed and was turning color. Corn was maturing also and starting to bleach out. Soybeans were blooming, and a few fields were setting pods. Hay producers continued to bale second cutting of Bermuda grass and native grasses. Hay yields were good, but the quality was below average. Cattle were feeling stress from the heat.
FAR WEST: Temperatures remained high, with daytime temperatures above 100 degrees in the district. No rainfall was reported. Temperatures in the mid-90s were forecast. Wildfires were a danger due to dry conditions and wind. Burn bans remained in effect for most counties. Rangeland and pasture conditions remained fair despite the dry conditions, but some areas were beginning to turn brown. Dryland cotton was showing signs of stress, and there was concern cotton may begin shedding a severe amount of its fruit load if rains do not come soon. Cotton on irrigated land was performing as expected. Sorghum and corn progressed nicely. Most producers made their last irrigation on those fields and have moved water on to cotton. Summer melons were harvested. Drip irrigation was not keeping up with demand. The feeding of livestock and wildlife continued. In Brewster and Jeff Davis counties producers performed work on infrastructure, including roads, pipelines, windmills and corrals. Cattle were in generally good condition with stockers doing well and larger calves and milkers pulling down some. Some tumbleweed tested at over 2.5 percent nitrates. Producers were told to be careful of poisoning when introducing hungry cattle to previously ungrazed pastures that include tumbleweeds.
WEST CENTRAL: Hot, dry, windy conditions continued with 100 degree days and warm nights. All areas needed rain. Burn bans have been reinstated in all areas. Wildfire dangers continued to increase as rangeland grass conditions dry out. Heat and wind have taken a toll on some row crops. Small grains were beginning to show extreme drying and moisture stress. Grain sorghum was maturing quickly, and harvest will start soon. Yields were expected to be good. Cotton looked good and was holding its own in the heat due to good subsoil moisture from early summer rains. Corn and sorghum crops were beginning to burn. Some hay cutting and baling continued. Most hay fields were cut and baled or were being used for grazing. Range and pasture conditions continued to decline and were steadily drying out. Soil moisture was very poor. Stock ponds were in good condition. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Cattle prices were still gradually going down.
SOUTHEAST: Temperatures were above normal, and the heat was stressing most plants and animals. One county reported scattered showers, and rain was in the forecast. The rice crop was progressing. Producers have harvested a significant amount of hay with the dry weather. Corn and sorghum harvests continued. Livestock and pastures were in good condition. Some hay harvesting continued. Moisture was needed to prevent grass dormancy or possible losses. Livestock were being fed hay by more producers. Soil moisture levels ranged widely from adequate to very short, with most ratings short. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from excellent to poor, with fair ratings being the most common.
SOUTHWEST: Dry, hot and windy weather continued and contributed to considerable drying of topsoil. Available forage was damaged in some areas. Burn bans were in effect in some counties. Farmers were trying to keep crop damage by wild pigs and raccoons down. Pastures were starting to burn from lack of moisture. Corn and milo harvests started. Wildlife looked good. Livestock were in good condition, and weaning of lambs and goats was underway.
SOUTH: Hot, windy and dry conditions continued throughout the district. Temperatures continued to hit triple digits, including consistent heat indexes near 110 degrees. A few very light and scattered showers were reported in one county. Corn and sorghum harvests were in full swing. Cotton bolls were opening. Cotton gins in one county were expected to begin ginning early-planted cotton soon. Cotton harvest was underway in one county, and cotton defoliation was very active. Peanuts were in the pegging stage and under irrigation. Pasture and range conditions continued drying out due to the high temperatures and lack of rainfall. Soil moisture conditions remained very dry, and forage quality continued to decline. Livestock conditions remained fair to good, but some supplementation may be necessary due the reduction of forage quality. Supplemental feeding was underway in some areas. Dry conditions were causing concern for wildfires. There were some small fires reported. Body condition scores on cattle remained fair. Grain harvests slowed down. Most early planted grain was harvested. Local cattle markets reported average offerings, but the market continued to show a decline in prices for all classes of beef cattle. Watermelon harvest was completed. Pecans made good progress, however producers added irrigation input costs due to hot and dry conditions.