• Sun. Sep 24th, 2023


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Extreme Heat and Drought Conditions Fuel Several Texas Wildfires

High winds, drought conditions and extreme temperatures have caused a series of wildfires in Texas, including one that the authorities on Thursday said had destroyed about 30 structures and burned more than 9,000 acres.

The fast-moving Mesquite Heat Fire, just southwest of Abilene, Texas, was 5 percent contained on Thursday afternoon and was one of nine wildfires that the Texas A&M Forest Service was battling across the state, the agency said.

In Wilbarger County, in North Texas, the Coconut Fire has burned 25,000 acres and was 20 percent contained, the agency said Thursday. A firefighter sustained burns while battling the fire on Tuesday. The firefighter was treated at a hospital and released, the forest service said.

In Taylor County, the site of the Mesquite Heat Fire, the area was facing drought conditions, wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour and temperatures far exceeding 100 degrees, said Elise Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Abilene Fire Department.

Under these conditions, she said, “fires are really easily started and very hard to contain.”

The fire in Taylor County was the product of a “roadside start,” Ms. Roberts said. The origin could have been something like a cigarette flicked from a window or a catalytic converter falling off a vehicle.

“In conditions that we’re in now,” Ms. Roberts said, “any little spark can start a fire easily.”

County Judge Downing Bolls of Taylor County said the hot weather was especially challenging for firefighters on the front lines.

“It is just stifling,” Mr. Bolls said. “I don’t know how the firefighters are doing it. It’s almost intolerable.”

He said that officials were hoping for rain, but little of it has come so far, even though May and June are typically the area’s wettest months.

“This is not good,” he said.

Wildfires could occur in Texas hill country and the rolling plains through Friday, and new fires in grass and brush vegetation will most likely be difficult to control because of the dry and hot conditions, according to the forest service.

The state could get relief over the weekend. A cold front is expected to move through the state, potentially limiting the spread of wildfires on Saturday and Sunday, according to the agency.

Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the Western United States, and wildfire seasons are growing longer. Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increase in bigger and stronger fires.

Days of abnormally high temperatures have contributed to the intensity of fires by making vegetation drier and more likely to ignite. Analyses have shown that climate change has increased the likelihood of such extreme heat waves.