Enjoy all your local news and sports for less than 6¢ per day.

Subscribe Now

Moore Peak Fire signals risk ahead

Moore Peak Fire in Llano County

The smoke from the Moore Peak Fire in southeast Llano County was visible from miles away on July 13, when it started. It was the first major blaze of the season in the Highland Lakes, but it might not be the last. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Moore Peak Fire, the first major wildfire of the season in the Highland Lakes, was 100 percent contained on Sunday, July 16, after sparking to life four days earlier and burning over 700 acres in southeast Llano County. The high temperatures and dry winds that contributed to the blaze will continue to parch the landscape and increase fire risk as the area plunges deeper into summer, said Burnet County Emergency Management Coordinator Derek Marchio

The Moore Peak Fire started just after Llano and Burnet counties issued burn bans for the first time in months. A wet spring kept the landscape green deep into June, but triple-digit temperatures quickly sapped superficial moisture, dramatically increasing fire risk in a relatively short amount of time.

“We’re going to be hot and we’re going to be dry,” Marchio told, referring to the coming weeks of summer. 

Currently, the region is one of the only areas in Texas entering levels of “very high” fire risk.

Marchio was on the scene of the Moore Peak Fire and worked alongside at least 21 responding agencies that fought to get the blaze under control. Trees, brush, and low-lying areas in the fire’s vicinity still held enough moisture to keep it from raging further, he said.

“If it was a month from now, (emergency workers) would still be in heavy operations,” Marchio said.

The Moore Peak Fire was likely caused by heavy equipment operation that ignited dry grass. The blaze quickly spread in the dry, windy conditions. Enough moisture was locked away in larger vegetation and low-lying areas to help suppress it. High humidity helped contain the flames at night. 

As summer wears on, however, even large vegetation will dry out, soil moisture will drop, and humidity will decrease, all leading to higher fire risk.

In late June, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported an increase in fire risk across the Highland Lakes region due to the increasingly high temperatures. At that time, fire risk fluctuated between moderate and very high, which is where the Highland Lakes now stands. 

“When the fire danger is ‘very high,’ fires will start easily from most causes,” reads a Forest Service definition of very high fire risk.

Fire risk forecast for Central Texas 7-17-23
Three graphics from the Texas A&M Forest Service show portions of Burnet and Llano counties have some of the highest fire risks in the state right now. Courtesy images

Fires in a very high-risk area will spread rapidly and quickly increase in intensity, right after ignition. Small fires can fast become large, difficult-to-control blazes of extreme intensity and include long-distance spotting and fire whirls. 

Both Llano and Burnet counties use the Keetch-Byram Drought Index to determine fire risk and impose burn bans. Typically, a burn ban is issued when the scale reaches 575 out of 800. Almost all of Burnet County is considered exceptionally dry and over 500, according to the index, with portions reaching dangerously dry levels of 600 and above. Western Llano County still has moderately moist soil, but the eastern portion of the county, where the Moore Peak Fire started, is exceptionally dry and above 500.

Central Texas is experiencing an extreme drought by the standards of the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, a measure used by the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District to determine the drought stage in Burnet County. These conditions are expected to continue through the summer, but the arrival of El Niño in early June means the area might begin to get heavy rains in late August, which will likely continue through the fall, winter, and spring. 

“We’ll see what’s really in store from El Niño by August,” Marchio said.