Texas wildfire chief: Wildfires still raging, but 'we are making successes'
A break in the weather allowed firefighters to gain some ground against the historic Texas wildfires. But the battle against 22 major wildland fires has been 'problematic,' says Mark Stanford, fire operations chief of the Texas Forest Service.
A federal wildfire strike team swooped into central Texas Wednesday to help stanch a massive wildfire west of Dallas, attesting to the precariously "fluid" situation on the ground as dozens of massive conflagrations, 90 percent of them human-caused, thunder across the bone-dry Lone Star State.Skip to next paragraph
"We're responding to 22 fires, major significant fires, that are burning over a million acres," Mark Stanford, fire operations chief of the Texas Forest Service, told the Monitor. "It's very fluid. We'll contain some and we'll get new ones. A handful of them are problematic, although we are making successes on them."
Those successes include nearly 8,000 fires put down earlier this season. Another cause for hope came from a low-pressure front that moved in Wednesday, cooling much of the state by nearly 30 degrees, settling the winds, and introducing some much-needed atmospheric moisture, if not always rain.
That moisture gives firefighters a chance to attack stubborn blazes like the so-called PK Complex west of Dallas/Fort Worth, the remote Rockhouse fire in west Texas, and the Wildcat fire near San Angelo. The break in the weather allowed firefighters "great progress" Wednesday in building containment lines, the Texas Forest Service said.
And this season's fires have claimed fewer lives than many feared. While 22 people, 21 of them civilians, died during the drought-driven 2008 Texas wildfire season, the fight against this year's bigger fires has resulted in only three casualties so far.
It's been a battle of stops, starts, ducks and parries for the 1,814 firefighters from 36 states, dozens of aircraft, and hundreds of pumpers and bulldozers fighting up to 40-foot flames that have at times raced the distance of a football field in a minute. Ten towns and dozens of neighborhoods have been evacuated, often for short periods, as a precaution against the unpredictable blazes affecting 252 out of Texas' 254 counties.
Hobbling the effort have been winds that have stymied some of the firefighters' best offensive weapons. A squadron of heavy air tankers can't lift off if winds top 35 miles per hour.