Wildfire Risk High Through May

By BETSY BLANEY
|  Friday, Mar 18, 2011  |  Updated 9:15 AM CDT
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Wildfire Risk High Through May

NBCDFW.com

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Summer-like temperatures and strong winds have created dangerous wildfire conditions in parts of West Texas and the Panhandle that are likely to last through May, the Texas Forest Service said.

The agency warned Thursday of a hot, dry spring that could affect an area north and west of a line from Wichita Falls to Midland and Van Horn, including the Guadalupe Mountains.

The National Weather Service said highs in the region could reach the lower 90s.

Forecasters predicted the high fire danger in December, based on models using the now-dominant La Nina weather pattern, NWS meteorologist Victor Murphy said Thursday. The chance for above normal and much-above normal fire conditions will persist through May, he said.

"Summer is setting up to be pretty ominous based on antecedent conditions," Murphy said.

In the past week the Texas Forest Service has responded to 67 fires burning nearly 15,000 acres. Overall this year the agency has responded to nearly 365 fires burning more than 246,000 acres.

Burn bans are in effect in two-thirds of the state's 254 counties.

Rainfall won't ease the danger either.

"The expectation is we should stay below norm rainfall right on through May," Murphy said.

The state is already drying out. About 17 percent of Texas is in extreme drought, the second worst level of dryness, compared with about 14 percent last week and 5.2 percent three months ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday.

For the most part, the extreme drought covers portions of eastern and southwest Texas and around the Permian Basin region, which includes Midland and Odessa.

Murphy said Texans should expect to see the areas of extreme drought expand. Eventually, he said, there will be areas of exceptional drought, the U.S. map's driest condition.

A grass fire Wednesday afternoon that burned about 300 acres in Hutchinson County is being investigated as arson. Danny Richards, emergency management coordinator for Hutchinson County, told KVII-TV in Amarillo that the fire was considered suspicious due to multiple spark points along a highway.

Online: U.S. Drought Monitor map of Texas

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