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Worst may be over for Texas wildfires

After Texas' driest spell on record, calmer and wetter weather is helping crews get the upper hand on raging wildfires.

May 07, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • Burned trees are what is left at Gaines Bend at Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas, west of Fort Worth.
Burned trees are what is left at Gaines Bend at Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas,… (Louis DeLuca / Associated…)

After six months of battling blazes that scorched more than 2.8 million acres across the state, Texas appears to be nearing the end of devastating winter wildfires.

"We're in pretty good shape right now," said April Saginor, a Texas Forest Service spokeswoman. "But we're not out of the woods entirely."

Forest officials estimate that the fire season will continue through June, but firefighters seem to be gaining an upper hand on blazes across the state. About a week ago, 17 major fires were burning; on Saturday, there were three.

The state's worst drought on record, unusually high temperatures and strong winds have fueled the fires since mid-November. But in recent days, subsiding winds and rainfall have helped quell many of the blazes.

"We have good days and bad days," Saginor said. "But we've definitely experienced the worst of it."

On Saturday, firefighters continued to battle three major fires: a 314,444-acre fire in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties, a 175,000-acre fire in Val Verde county and a 9,050-acre fire in Kimble County. All are 95% contained, forest officials said.

But severe fire conditions have not vanished, officials warned. Beginning Sunday, northwestern and western Texas will experience four days of low humidity and high winds, said Mark Stanford, Texas Forest Service fire operations chief.

Texas' seven-month precipitation total from October to the end of April was about 6 inches, the lowest in recorded history, according to the Forest Service. "That's drier than the Dust Bowl," Stanford said.

Typically in May, a wind-driven winter wildfire season in the state changes into a fuel-driven summer season in which blazes are fed by dry vegetation. Though summer fires do not spread as quickly because of the lack of powerful winds, they are more explosive and often difficult to control, Stanford said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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