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Extreme fire conditions continue in Burnet and Llano counties

Medina County wildfire

The Das Goat Fire in Medina County was 70 percent contained as of 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 28. This photo was taken Sunday afternoon. Smoke from the fire, which has so far burned 1,000 acres, could be seen in Burnet County on Sunday. Courtesy photo

Wildfire danger in Burnet and Llano counties has been rated extreme by the Texas A&M Forest Service and could stay that way through April and into May, depending on rainfall, said Jim Barho, coordinator of Burnet County Emergency Management

“March is generally known for its winds,” Barho said. “Historically, May is when we get the big rains. April should begin easing into that, but, generally, these (fire) conditions last until spring rains.” 

More than 40 percent of Texas is in extreme danger for wildfires. Drought conditions coupled with a weather forecast of high winds, low humidity, and little rain have increased the danger for the coming week and into April.

“As conditions across a large portion of the state worsen, wildfires that ignite are burning more intensely and are frequently resistant to control,” said Wes Moorehead, fire chief of the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Unfortunately, little to no precipitation is forecast for the immediate future, and we expect the current level of wildfire activity to continue for some time.”  

By Tuesday, March 29, the potential for large wildfires will escalate as critical fire weather is expected to develop over a large area of the state west of the Interstate 35 corridor, according to a Forest Service statement. Critical-to-extreme weather conditions combined with extremely dry vegetation across the landscape create the possibility of large, significant wildfires that could impact many communities.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of fuel on the ground because of all the grass growth last year,” Barho said. “We had two fires Friday and one Thursday. The least little thing sets off a fire — any spark.” 

Major fires to the north and south of the Highland Lakes filled the skies with smoke over the weekend, particularly on Saturday. The smoke was blowing in from the south, where 1,000 acres in Medina County continue to burn. That blaze was caused by a vehicle fire. 

In March, state and local resources have responded to 726 wildfires that burned 164,257 acres across Texas. Over the past seven days, fire agencies responded to 121 wildfires that burned 35,728 acres, including the Crittenburg Complex in Coryell County (33,175 acres, 0 percent contained), the Eastland Complex in Eastland County (54,513 acres, 90 percent contained), and the Ramsey Fire in Brown County (3,100 acres, 65 percent contained). As of Monday, the Das Goat Fire in Medina County was 70 percent contained. 

The Eastland County wildfire, which is about 2½ hours north of Burnet County, burned over 54,000 acres, making it the biggest fire in the state’s history. The fire devastated ranchers in the area, burning livestock, hay bales, and fields. People from across the state, including in Burnet County, have been volunteering and sending feed, hay, and other items. 

“State, local, and federal firefighters have been extremely busy responding to increased wildfire activity,” said Rich Gray, chief regional fire coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Fire resources are mobilized to areas of concern for a quick and effective response to any requests for assistance.”  

In Burnet County, firefighters are on standby and will remain so until the danger passes, Barho said. The Forest Service staged bulldozers at the rodeo grounds on U.S. 281 in Marble Falls, which have already been called out several times. 

“You can’t prepare except to be ready to respond at any minute,” Barho added. “There’s really no prevention mechanism except to get the message out to the public.”

Llano County firefighters fought a 15-acre blaze on County Road 315 for five hours Sunday. No cause for the fire, which began at 3 p.m., is known at this point, said Gilbert Bennett, coordinator of Llano County Emergency Management.

Crews from Willow City and the city of Llano were helped by air support from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

“The rocky terrain made it difficult,” said Bennett, adding that a bulldozer and three Fire Boss aircraft were sent from the Forest Service.

A Fire Boss can deliver up to 14,000 gallons of water per hour. It arrives loaded then scoops more from nearby available water sources.

Both Bennett and Barho cautioned against throwing cigarette butts out of car windows and urged residents to be extremely careful when welding or doing any kind of work that could produce sparks. Two recent local fires were caused by a chain dragged on RR 1431 and the rim of a flat tire creating sparks along Texas 71. 

“Prevention is being careful and adhering to the rules,” Barho continued. 

Nine out of 10 wildfires in Texas are human caused, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

“Because of the drought, right now, things are extremely volatile,” Barho said. “The fires are extreme that we are getting right now. Please follow the guidelines and take these conditions seriously. The next fire could impact you or your family, your home, your vehicles. Take every precaution to get through this extreme season.” 

suzanne@thepicayune.com