A number of firefighters and crews from North Texas have been deployed to assist as gusty winds fuel wildfires near Abilene and Wichita Falls.
According to the Texas Wildfire Incident Response System, there were 22 active wildfires in Texas that have consumed more than 66 square miles or 42,000 acres as of Friday.
The Mesquite Heat Wildfire is 25% contained as of Friday morning after charring more than 15 square miles (9,600 acres) of juniper and mesquite brush 18 miles southwest of Abilene.
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LOCAL FIREFIGHTERS STEP IN TO HELP
Two firefighters from the Allen Fire Department have been deployed to assist with the Mesquite Heat Fire, according to Allen Fire Chief Jonathan Boyd.
“It’s the core function of what we do. We all got in this business to help people and it’s a great opportunity to help where there is a real need,” Boyd said. “Every day, whether they come here or they get deployed to west Texas, they’re all in it for the right reasons. That’s kind of a theme amongst all firefighters.”
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Boyd added, the wildfire season this year has been active. Assistance from their department for other fires began as early as January, he said.
The Mesquite Heat Fire, while about 150 miles away from Fort Worth, hits close to home for a Lake Worth police officer. Police Chief J.T. Manoushagian said the officer has family in the area of the active fire threat.
“Of course, she’s here in Fort Worth. She’s worried about her family. She’s wondering, 'what can I do? How can I help?'” Manoushagian said.
The Lake Worth Police Department began collecting donations for first responders on Thursday. Water, sports drinks and wipes are among the items that would be the most helpful, Manoushagian said Friday.
“We expect even more to be coming over the next couple of days,” he said. “This completely embodies what it means to be neighbors taking care of neighbors. Being in Lake Worth, we are kind of the furthest west of our DFW area law enforcement. We kind of see ourselves as a gateway out to Abilene. When you drive through our city, you see the exit that says 'Abilene.' So, we do feel that connection.”
Donations can be dropped off at the Lake Worth Police Department on 3805 Adam Grubb Street 24/7.
ACTIVE TEXAS WILDFIRE SEASON
Wildfires have broken out this spring earlier than usual across multiple states in the western U.S., where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires.
“A lot of these wildfires that are taking off now have become more resistant to control just because the fuel is providing such extreme fire behavior. And so now, what would turn into a 100-acre brush fire on the side road is now turning into a 10,000-acre fire that's burning down houses," said Stuart Morris with the Texas A&M Forest Service.
North Texas crews have also been deployed to assist with the Coconut Fire, which continues to burn west of Wichita Falls Friday. So far, the Coconut Fire has burned more than 40 square miles (26,000 acres) and is 45% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Dallas Fire-Rescue sent three teams, according to Deputy Chief Scott Pacot. He also serves as the department's wildland coordinator, a special operations program with DFR.
“We have a certain mindset and culture in structural firefighting. This is very different,” Pacot said. “We’re not as new as we used to be, of course. We’re all still learning every time we go out and it’s a great opportunity to learn as much as everyone else.”
Pacot said their three crews were deployed on Thursday. How long they will be assisting depends on the need, he said.
“It’s that basis of wanting to help and going out to these disasters that we know, something big is going on. We have this huge opportunity to help. Everyone is on board for that,” he said. “This assignment is actually a little different than what we’ve had before because we do have a fire suppression unit out there. We’ve got the rapid extraction module out there.”
Crews from Fort Worth, McKinney and other North Texas fire departments have also been deployed to assist with the Coconut and Mesquite Heat fires.
The Forest Service has warned, it could be a long fire season ahead and wildfire prevention will be key.
"We highly encourage people to be very cautious with outdoor activities, driving, pulling off on the side of the road. Try to avoid parking in tall, dry grass, and shut your engine off if you do. That can lead to a start just from the heat of your exhaust. Also, make sure your trailer chains are properly secured," said Morris.
He also warned those near fires should be prepared for a quick escape.
"These evacuation notices are sometimes last minute, especially if you're close to where a fire is. And so, they move very quickly," he said.