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Stories Added - November 2008
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Hurricane debris increases wildfire risk
Polk County Enterprise - November 2008
LIVINGSTON -- Hurricane Ike may be long gone, but the after effects of his passage linger on. Downed trees and other storm debris have hindered recent wildfi re containment efforts and led to larger wildfi res, due to access problems and safety concerns posed by the accumulated debris. Now, with falling leaves adding to the hazardous fuel accumulations and with cooler weather contributing to rising outdoor activity, fi re control leaders fear the increased opportunities for carelessness will lead to additional accidental wildfi re starts. Some recent wildfi res appear to have resulted from unsafe efforts to eliminate storm debris. With the prospect of additional outdoor fi res sparked by unsafe leaf burning, campfi res and warming fi res, the Texas Forest Service warns that southeast Texas counties face heightened potential for dangerous wildfi res in the upcoming months. Hurricane Ike brought two modifi cations to the wildland timber fuels in southeast Texas that will have a signifi cant impact on the occurrence frequency, intensity, and resistance to containment/control of wildland fi res in this region for the next 12 months, says Brad Smith, fi re analyst with the Texas Forest Service. “The fi rst modifi cation is the tree blowdown that has occurred where the wind was able to penetrate and knock down entire trees or break off at least the upper half of trees,” said Smith. “It often takes multiple tractor plows to effectively construct containment line where there is heavy blow-down, so more resources are committed for a longer time for each fire. In addition, the downed canopies that now hold cured leaves or needles are sources for flare-ups and torching that will produce short range spotting that also increases the difficulty of control and the amount of time and resources committed to each fire.” The second modification Smith noted is the amount of debris that has been deposited on the forest floor and mixed in with the brush understory canopy. This debris has increased the fuel continuity across the surface, and the dead material now mixed with the understory brush canopies increases the potential for surface fires to become crownfires. “In any year, the fuel types across the landscape of southeast Texas present many challenges to wildland firefighters and fire managers,” Smith stated. “It is my opinion that the wildland fuel modifications brought by Ike will definitely increase the resultant severity of wildfires in the area. Fuel dryness will certainly drive the severity of the fire activity in southeast Texas for the next 12 months.” Southeast Texas residents especially need to use increased caution with all outdoor fire use, particularly when dry, windy weather persists, suggests Ricky Holbrook, regional fire coordinator with the Texas Forest Service in Livingston. “Before starting any outdoor fire, residents should check to make sure that outdoor burning is allowed before starting any outdoor fire,” Holbrook advised. “Several southeast Texas counties have outdoor burning bans in place to help prevent accidental wildfires and reduce the risk to lives and homes posed by the dangerous accumulations of debris left in Ike’s wake.” Holbrook urges everyone in southeast Texas to be very careful with all outdoor fire use so destructive wildfires aren’t added to Ike’s legacy in the area.