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Extreme heat turns up wildfire risk

Llano County grassfire in May 2022

Fire crews walk across charred ground left behind by a wildfire off of Texas 71 in June 2022. The Highland Lakes area is starting with a moderate fire season in 2023, but the risk is growing as triple-digit temperatures persist. File photo

The Highland Lakes is fluctuating between a moderate and high risk of wildfires as triple-digit temperatures bake the landscape. The danger is the same across the state. The Texas A&M Forest Service recently raised the Wildland Fire Preparedness level from 1 to 2, signaling an elevated risk and calling for more preparation for potential blazes.

Level 1 is marked by a “minimal drought and normal fuel moisture,” which would allow for fire suppression with no issue. Fire activity is also at a minimum. Level 2 means an “elevated fire danger” and the possibility that additional resources, including aircraft, would be needed to put out blazes.

Burnet County is still benefiting from spring rainfall, but not for long.

“Because of all of the rain we had in the spring, we’re starting out with a below-average fire season,” Burnet County Emergency Management Coordinator Derek Marchio told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, June 27. “But as we dry out, we may see an above-normal season.”

Temperatures climbed into the hundreds in late June, bringing a stark change from spring to summer. While highs could drop into the 90s in the coming days, it still will be hot enough to crisp vegetation, turning it into fire fuel.

Texas wildfire risk June 2023
Graphics from the Texas A&M Forest Service show Central Texas is fluctuating between moderate and high fire risks over the next three days. As temperatures rise and precipitation becomes less frequent, the wildfire danger will grow. 

Marchio briefed commissioners on potential fire risks during the meeting. He explained how current soil moisture levels will initially help mitigate the risks, but the abnormally hot summer that has been predicted will cause problems down the road.

Burnet County uses the Keetch-Byram Drought Index to measure drought conditions. The index is based on a combination of precipitation and soil moisture on a scale of zero to 800 with zero meaning no soil moisture depletion and 800 meaning absolutely dry conditions. 

Both Burnet and Llano counties are currently diverse on the KBDI. Northwest Burnet County is relatively moist, but the southwest portion is transitioning into moderately dry. Llano County still has large swathes of moist soil and has yet to creep into moderate dry conditions.

Burnet, Llano, and Blanco counties were covered in wildfires this time last year. Earlier in June, Granite Shoals Fire Chief Tim Campbell warned that spring rains could inadvertently contribute to summer fire risks due to the abundance of vegetation that will eventually become wildfire fuel.

The Texas A&M Forest Service provides thorough guidelines for preparing homes and properties for wildfires.