(NOAA Photo Archive)
The National Weather Service forecast office in San Angelo responded quickly with a series of special weather statements and warnings noting the potential for power outages, broken tree limbs and hazardous weather.
This would have been pretty standard stuff and not at all uncommon weather for west Texas at this time of year. But it turned out that there would be nothing standard or typical about that day.
Late that afternoon, the forecasters in San Angelo were notified that a team of firefighters were in the field trying to extinguish a 1,000 acre wildfire in Shackelford County, north of Abilene. Due to the potential danger from the winds, the National Weather Service forecasters began extensive communications with the at risk first responders.
In addition to a series of frequently updated weather statements and warnings, they kept up a steady stream of phone calls, text messages and amateur radio contact with the firefighters.
"Throughout the day, weather updates were provided to the Fire Command by the National Weather Service office in San Angelo providing wind speeds, direction, humidity counts and real time forecasts," said Shackelford County Sheriff Edward A. Miller. "This information provided us with advanced notice of the approaching storm front and 60 to 70 miles per hour wind gusts. It was a great help to our emergency services personnel, helping us to respond and protect our communities."
Residents who live in rural areas with a potential for wildfires should consider the following safety tips:
- Create a defensible space of at least 30 feet around your house and outbuildings; closely mow lawns and trees should be pruned and spaced widely apart.
- Establish fuel breaks along roadways and between buildings and fields or woodlands.
- Keep mufflers and spark arresters on agricultural equipment in proper working order and watch out for rocks and metal when bush hogging or mowing.
- Monitor hay-baling operations closely, dry hay can ignite within the baler.
- Watch out for sparks when using welding equipment to build fences or repair equipment.
- Avoid driving or parking vehicles in grassy areas where tall, dry grass comes into contact with hot pollution control equipment under vehicles.
- Postpone outdoor burning until your area greens up, check with local fire department to determine if ban on outdoor burning have been lifted.
- When debris burning is allowed, establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil prior to lighting your fire. Burn trash in a burn barrel or other fire-safe receptacle covered with a wire mesh or gird that will help contain burning debris. Stay with your fire until it is out.
Between the beginning of January and the end of August, more than 13 thousand wildfires burned nearly 328,000 acres in Texas.