AMARILLO, TX (KFDA)- As wildfire danger increases this winter, so do the precautions area first responders want you to take.
The Texas A&M Forest Service reports nine counties in the Texas Panhandle are currently under a burn ban.
Along with area fire departments, the forest service said it responded to 1,110 fires in 2018, totaling 339,388.15 acres burned across the Panhandle and Southern Plains.
NewsChannel10′s Chief Meteorologist “Doppler” Dave Oliver said the current lack of moisture could potentially set the Texas Panhandle up for a repeat of last year.
“If we had a wet winter it’s not as bad, but we had less than a tenth of an inch of moisture since January first,” said Oliver. “Last year it got this bad, we didn’t get rain until almost April. So the difference will be whether or not we start to get moisture soon to put an end to wildfire season.”
Earlier this week, the Hartley Volunteer Fire Department was put to the test.
“It started in a irrigated crop circle that they were trying to bail some corn stocks up to make hay out of it, and it had a spark or something in it,” said Chief Scott White. “With the wind, it burned very fast over to the county road and it tried to jump the road. They got it stopped pretty quick. If it haven’t been stopped there it would probably have been another 10 miles for we got it stopped.”
White said residents can do their part to help prevent wildfires.
“If they have highway frontage road or frontage property, do some fire breaks,” he said. “[They can] go inside their fence line and do some clearing away from the fences as much as they can. If they have available road grader, go in there and cut a fire guard out.”
He also advises landowners to to reach out to their local fire departments.
“If you know we have a fire going and you are available, please if you have tractors, disk, and plows, please contact your fire chief or somebody and let them know that, ‘Hey I am available’ and try to come and help us.”
Firefighter Danny Sadler said the small things can make a big difference during fire season.
“Don’t throw your cigarettes out the car window and don’t don’t pull your car over in the tall grass or short grass for that matter," said Sadler. "If it’s a red flag day, there is a reason that it’s broadcast that way. You know it doesn’t take much heat from a vehicle to get a grass fire started and if the wind is blowing real good, it’s out of control before we are even get to the building much less to get the trucks out and get to the fire.”
And from the NewsChannel10 team, be mindful when warnings are in place.
“Keep in mind we have lost more people and more property due to wildfires in recent years than by tornadoes, I mean by far," said Oliver. "So every time we have red flag warning we need treat it just as seriously as we do as a tornado watch if you think about it. Because those are the days that we have a red flag warning that suddenly we become a national news event because we have raging wildfires.”