Firefighters preparing for potentially dangerous wildfire season

Updated: Jan. 4, 2018 at 11:09 PM CST
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Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Because of our current drought conditions, early predictions anticipate above normal wildfire potential for the Panhandle region from February through April.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, which works with fire departments across the country to prepare for wildfire season, the areas of concern are shown in the red below:

Due to this, area firefighters are already gearing up for a potentially dangerous season, but they want you to prepare as well.

Wildfires are a sight no one wants to see across the Panhandle skyline, but it may be all too common in the coming months.

"We haven't rained in more than 80 days. So if you think back to last spring, we had horrible wildfire danger," said Chief Meteorologist 'Doppler' Dave Oliver. "We could have a similar setup this spring except we are drier than we were last year. So we are getting increasingly concerned about this upcoming season."

Heavy rainfall late last summer and into early fall caused plants to spring up, but now those plants are dead and the perfect fuel for a devastating wildfire.

"The amount of grass we have and how small the grass is it doesn't take a lot to ignite. And with the amount of winds we get, it can push a grassfire pretty big and pretty quick," said Texas A&M Forest Service Task Force Coordinator Billy Gage.

That's why the Forest Service needs your help now to get rid of some of that fuel.

"Clear a lot of the brush that is around their actual home," said Gage. "Get a good defensible space, meaning have green grass around their area or staying away from heavier loadings of fuel. So don't have a tall amount of brush, grass or trees overhanging on their house."

The Forest Service also urges drivers to make sure they don't have chains hanging from their cars and to avoid parking on dry grass.

"What often gets overlooked is the threat of wildfires. We've lost many more homes and more property to wildfires than any other weather related event," said Oliver.

Of the nearly 575,000 acres that burned in Texas during last year's wildfire season, 85 percent of that land was in the Panhandle.

Because of fire activity over the past few years, our local Texas A&M Forest Service Task Force has grown within that time from only six staff members to 30 who are stationed in Amarillo, Childress and Lubbock.

"We grew from having multiple calls, multiple initial attacks and our large fire growth so quickly," said Gage. "Now it's becoming the busiest station and the state was recognizing there's more need for more boots on the ground and more folks in here."

There is also more equipment, which fills almost half of the Randall County Fire Department complex. If the fire outlook worsens, firefighting airplanes called SEATS will be flown in and stationed at Rick Husband.

The Forest Service is ready for the worst, but it needs you to be ready too.

Outdoor burning is prohibited during the upcoming months as most of the Texas Panhandle is already under a burn ban.

For more tips on how you can can better prepare your home for wildfires, the Texas A&M Forest Service has a list of preventative measures that you can find here.

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