Highly cured vegetation, warm, breezy, and dry conditions setting stage for fire growth issues week of February 14th 2011 (click to enlarge)
Out of the Cold, into the Fire?
Warm, Dry, Breezy/Windy Weather Headed to RGV

Burn Bans Increasing; Safety Urged Week of Feb. 14th

Spring will arrive in Deep South Texas in full glory beginning the week of February 14th, as a broad ridge of high pressure develops across Texas and northern Mexico, and becomes anchored through the period. The upper system will lock a surface high across the western Gulf of Mexico. The difference in pressure between the high and the semi–permanent springtime trough of low pressure in the lee of the Sierra Madre will funnel increasing southerly winds (below) into Deep South Texas. The atmosphere as a whole will be dry, precluding any precipitation. The south to southeast flow will import Gulf moisture toward the Lower Valley and King Ranch, but much of the surface moisture may dissipate farther inland across the bone dry vegetation. The combination of moderate to severe drought this winter with at least 10 separate freezes from portions of Hidalgo and Brooks County west to the Rio Grande Plains has made the vegation primed to burn.

Potential Impacts
High grass and untended brush will be most susceptible to the rapid spread of any wild fire that begins. All of these fuels are fully cured across Deep South Texas as of February 11th. The most critical area remains the western portion of the Rio Grande Valley, including much of Starr and Hidalgo County, where the cured fuels are combined with very low soil moisture, and the expectation of low afternoon humidity and gusty winds much of the week. In these areas, early spring "green–up" is unlikely. Significant concern for rapid wild fire growth covers the brush country and Rio Grande Plains, where more than 15 fronts since October have brought afternoon humidity to or below 15 percent. January rains provided a little more moisture to the soil layers, but not enough to preclude fire danger.

The danger of rapid to explosive fire growth diminishes as one moves toward the coast. Generally, locations along and east of Highway 77 received between 2 and 4 inches of rain since January 1st. In addition, surface moisture and cooler flow from the Gulf will raise afternoon humidity; "green–up" should begin in these areas as the week progresses. Unfortunately, the higher humidity will be countered by the strongest winds, maintaining some concern for rapid wildfire growth.

Photo taken in Starr County, showing dormant and cured vegetation, February 9th 2011 (click to enlarge)
Fully cured, dormant vegetation along Federal Highway 83 between La Grulla and Rio Grande City, Starr County, Texas, on February 9th 2011.

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires

The Texas Forest Service offers the following tips, known as the "Three E’s of Wildfire Prevention"

  • Education. Wildfire prevention efforts target a wide variety of audiences using a broad mix of messages, publications, activities and programs. Smokey Bear, the national symbol for wildfire prevention, has reached millions of children, youth and adults with his wildfire safety message: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The Smokey Bear wildfire prevention campaign remains one of the most successful public service programs ever undertaken by the National Advertising Council.

    Using materials and presentations appropriate for different audiences, fire prevention educators take wildfire safety programs to schools and youth groups, civic clubs, landowner associations and other targeted groups. Fire safety professionals also enlist the help of the news media to educate the public about wildfire danger, fire prevention and home fire safety practices, and weather events likely to increase the risk of wildfires. Fire risk assessment personnel help keep governmental leaders informed on wildfire activity and current and predicted danger levels to enable these officials to make informed decisions about possible outdoor fire restrictions and fire use.

    Even if burn bans are not in effect, open air debris or trash burning is not recommended this December.

  • Engineering. Proper equipment maintenance can help prevent many wildfires, e.g. keeping mufflers and spark arresters on outdoor power equipment in proper working order. Modifications on equipment and/or the environment in which equipment is being used also can prevent wildfires. Examples include removing vegetation from the area in which welding operations will be conducted and physically shielding potential ignition sources from dry vegetation.

  • Enforcement. The enforcement side of wildfire prevention involves activities that encourage compliance with restrictions on outdoor fire use, usually based on penalties for noncompliance with state or county regulations. In Texas, enforcement efforts most commonly involve citations for negligence with outdoor burning, and violations of county burning bans.

    A burn ban doesn’t have to be in effect for outdoor burning to be illegal. Negligently allowing your fire to escape onto someone else’s property is also Class C misdemeanor offense (the same as violation of a burn ban) that is punishable by a fine up to $500. Deliberately setting fire to someone else’s property is arson, which is a felony offense punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of from 2 years to 99 years in prison.


Warmth, wind, and low to moderate humidity settling in for the week of February 14th 2011 in Deep South Texas(click to enlarge)

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