Wildfires in Texas

Wildfires in Texas

Since April 6, more than a million acres have burned throughout the state of Texas, according to the Texas Forest Service. This image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows conditions on April 15, 2011. Wind whipped both smoke and dust southeast across the state. The fires detected by MODIS are marked in red.

The image illustrates one of the primary reasons fire danger is extremely high in Texas: strong winds. Warm temperatures, dry vegetation, and low humidity are also contributing to hazardous fire conditions. Normally a rainy month, March 2011 was the driest March on record, said the Texas Forest Service. Plentiful rains in 2010 spurred grass and shrubs to grow. The recent lack of rain, warm temperatures, and low humidity have turned all of that vegetation into dry tinder, creating unprecedented fire danger.

As of April 18, at least 23 large wildfires were burning in Texas. Seven of the largest are labeled in the image. The image also shows two wildfires burning in northern Mexico. So far in 2011, firefighters have responded to 7,807 fires, which have burned 1,528,714 acres of land and 244 structures, said Governor Rick Perry in an April 16 request to President Obama for a federal declaration of a major disaster.

Most of the seven fires shown in the image are larger than ten thousand acres, and many have threatened communities. As of April 18, the Texas Forest Service reported their status as follows:

  • Cannon Fire Complex Fire – Three fires collectively burned 63,427 acres; fire is 80 percent contained;
  • Cooper Mountain Ranch Fire – 152,000 acres burned; 4 homes destroyed; 50 percent contained;
  • Jackson Ranch Fire – 2,200 acres burned; community evacuated; 50 percent contained;
  • PK West – 50,739 acres burned; 31 homes destroyed and 495 threatened; 25 percent contained;
  • Swenson Fire – 122,500 acres burned; 90 percent contained;
  • Wichita Complex Fire – 11,785 acres burned; 20 homes destroyed; Shepard Air Force Base and surrounding housing threatened; 90 percent contained;
  • Wildcat Fire – 103,772 acres burned; multiple communities evacuated; unknown containment.
  1. References

  2. CNN. (2011, April 18). Fires burn across Texas with no end in sight. Accessed April 18, 2011.
  3. State of Texas Office of the Governor Rick Perry. (2011, April 17). Gov. Perry requests major disaster declaration as extreme wildfire danger continues. Accessed April 18, 2011.
  4. Texas Forest Service. (2011, April 18). Texas Forest Service incident management situation report. Accessed April 18, 2011.
  5. Texas Forest Service. (2011, April 13). Large area of Texas at risk Thursday as wildfire conditions are expected to worsen.
  6. USDA Forest Service. (2011, April 18). Fire detection maps. Accessed April 18, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.