Stonewall Co., Texas wildfire - April 7, 2011 (Photo: Texas Forest Service)
(April 13, 2011) - National Weather Service forecast offices in Lubbock and Midland, Texas and Norman, Okla. issued a series of rare Fire Warnings during the major wildfire outbreak currently affecting the southern Plains.
The warnings were designed to encourage life-saving evacuations and included the following phrases: RESIDENTS SHOULD EVACUATE IN ADVANCE OF A LARGE AND RAPIDLY MOVING WILDFIRE, or RESIDENTS SHOULD FOLLOW DIRECTIONS OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES FOR SAFEST EVACUATION ROUTES and YOU ARE INSTRUCTED TO EVACUATE.
National Weather Service Southern Region Warning Coordination Meteorologist Walt Zaleski says Fire Warnings are issued at the request of local authorities when there is an imminent threat to life.
"Using the nation's Emergency Alert System with the ability to interrupt television, radio and cable programming, we can relay potential life-saving Fire Warnings from local officials to a community threatened by a fast moving wildfire," said Zaleski. "When minutes count, these rare warnings help provide urgent notice to evacuate when citizens are in the path of a threatening blaze."
Since April 5, hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate as strong winds, extremely low humidity and ample fuel spawned nearly 80 fires that destroyed 70 homes and burned more than 385,000 acres in Texas alone. Tens of thousands of acres were also lost in New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties in the state. At the same time, Texas Governor Rick Perry renewed a disaster proclamation for the state's 249 counties in the face of the ongoing extreme fire hazard.
Since the first of the year, more than 12,000 wildfires have burned in excess of 660,000 acres throughout the southern region. As of April 12, almost 600 emergency personnel were working 17 uncontained wildfires in the region; and one of those, which has scorched 100,000 acres in west Texas, was the largest uncontained wildfire in the United States.
The Texas Forest Service offers the following safety tips to help prepare and protect your home from the threat of a wildfire.
- LPG tanks should be far enough away from buildings for valves to be shut off in case of fire.
- Keep area around the tank clear of flammable vegetation.
- Store gasoline in an approved safety can away from occupied buildings.
- All combustibles such as firewood, wooden picnic tables, boats and stacked lumber should be kept away from structures.
- Clear roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid build-up of flammable.
- Remove branches from trees to a height of 15 feet or more.
- In rural areas, clear a fuel break of at least three times the fuel length around all structures.
- Have fire tools handy such as: ladder long enough to reach your roof, shovel, rake and a bucket or two for water.
- Place connected garden hoses at all sides of your home for emergency use.
- Assure that you and your family know all emergency exits from your home.
- Assure that you and your family know all emergency exits from your neighborhood.