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Extension Agent: Be aware of heightened wildfire danger

Dec. 14, 2010 at 6:14 a.m.

Brian Yanta

By Brian Yanta

This winter season is reminiscent of the '07 winter, where thousands of acres were scorched from wildfires, following the abundance of grass growth that occurred after the 2006 drought.

Perhaps landowners should to take a "defensive driving" perspective on fire prevention and control. In most cases, the people traveling down the highways and county roads are not going to worry about the landowner's grass.

So as landowners with something to protect, you need to take a lesson from the defensive driving courses. You need to be watching out for them and taking evasive actions.

With the recent drought conditions that have set in across much of the state, one must be thinking in terms of mitigation, fuel management and prescribed burning. AgriLife Extension range management and beef cattle specialists tell us that landowners need to think about fuel management - shred it, graze it, burn it down - to keep from getting in a situation where fire can do significant damage.

As a tool in fuel management, removing that fuel is important. Whether it's a welding spark, thrown cigarette or hot box on a railroad, if the fuel is not there, the fire won't have a chance to grow and spread.

The Texas Forest Service has urged citizens across the state to be aware of heightened wildfire danger due to low pressure fronts that drop humidity levels and produce high winds. These conditions could lead to wildfires that spread quickly, pose containment problems and endanger public safety.

Our drought conditions have worsened, and freezing temperatures only cause drought-cured grasses to become even drier. With forecasts of La Nina through spring, fuels, such as grasses and trees, are expected to remain critically dry. The wildfires on the winter-cured grasses could spread up to 2 mph with flames reaching six to 10 feet in length.

Some tools that land owners can use to mitigate and lower the risk are:

Make sure the roadside ditches are mowed adequately along their property line. Contact the highway department if necessary.

Prescribed burning can be an option to manage brush and high grasses, where burn bans are not in effect. The Forest Service has an updated list of counties enacting burn bans at: http://tfsfrp.tamu.edu/wildfires/decban.png .

Establish fuel breaks (fire lanes) along fences, roadways and between buildings and fields.

When welding, be sure the work area is free of grass and debris, have a spotter and a water source handy.

More information about protecting against and preventing wildfires can be found at: http://texashelp.tamu.edu.

Brian Yanta is the Goliad County Extension agent.

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