Firefighters respond to more grass fires during drought

MIDLAND-ODESSA, TX (KWES) - West Texas has seen a lack of rain, and in addition, firefighters are responding to more grass fires.

"Over this winter, we've had a real dry season. We're already getting into our drought period," said Assistant Chief Fire Regional Coordinator Jeff Meiner with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The winter in West Texas brought several cold fronts recently and with it, comes high winds. Even with cooler temperatures, humidity drops and leaves vegetation even more dry. Which adds fuel to wildfires.

"The drier the fuels get, we get more ramped up," said Meiner. "So if we see a local area responding to more calls, then we take a closer look at that area and move resources into that area."

The Texas A&M Forest Service works close with the National Weather Service to monitor areas across the state to find where they expect to see more grass fires.

"We can predict where the fire is going to occur so that's where we move our resources so we're ready," said Meiner.

That's why they also work with fire departments, to provide extra resources when necessary. Just this year, Odessa Fire and Rescue has responded to more than 91 grass fires.

"What we'll typically see is our high fire danger will begin during the first part of spring," said Captain Kris Norred with Odessa Fire and Rescue.

The Texas A&M Forest Service says the leading cause of wildfires in Texas is debris burning. Most are sparked easily and not only because of low humidity, but also simple mistakes people make.

"Some of the causes we see is wind blowing high line wires together, they'll arc, cause high fires beneath the high line wires, we'll see cigarette butts thrown out windows, trailers dragging chains, vehicles throwing sparks," said Norred.

High winds can spread those hot spots, making grass fires ignite quickly. So whenever that happens, firefighters use proper equipment.

"Our tankers are off-road trucks, they're designed specifically for being in grass, tall brush and they maneuver and operate tremendously," said Norred.

The Forest Service reported this week, that the Midland/Odessa area now has a low rating for fire danger compared to two weeks ago when the rating was high.

The good news, is after months of no rain, West Texas may see some rainfall soon, which could put an end to those grass fire calls spreading like wildfire.

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